VCU Globe Hosts Inaugural Global Engagement Series
By: Nicol Tinsley
The event was a panel discussion that featured five of VCU’s Humphrey Fellows, a non-degree program that provides mid-career professionals from developing countries with advanced leadership training that combines academic, practical and cultural activities. The panel included Fernanda De Conto from Santa Catarina, Brazil; Asha Hetti Arachchige from Colombo, Sri Lanka; Martine Hennequin from Rose Hill, Mauritius; Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham from Yangon, Myanmar; and Enkelejda Ngjelina from Tirana, Albania.
The discussion, moderated by Globe students and social work majors Ariana Sites and Angela Ward, ranged in topics from the similarities and differences between the Fellows’ home countries and the Richmond area to discussions about the motivations and life experiences that led them into their chosen careers. One question that the moderators brought to the panel was based on VCU Globe’s goal to prepare the students to be ‘culture brokers.’ To help VCU Globe students in the audience gain knowledge and understanding that will help them in becoming culture brokers, they asked, “How has it been for you to be here, what challenges have you experienced and what has gone well for you?”
One cultural difference expressed by several of the panelists is the way cultures show respect to one another. Khamspoke of how, in her native Myanmar, it is expected that a younger person stay quiet when older people have a conversation, which denotes respect for elders. She noted that in the U.S. that is not an expectation. Ngjelinashared how her Albanian culture tends to use physical affection to show respect for one another. She noted that while visiting in California, she was careful to “not hug or kiss people four times” which shows respect to them. She also found the expectation among Americans to refrain from violating one’s “personal space” to be a big difference, describing that it was explained to her “to stay one [arm’s] length” from another person, as compared to the usual close proximity displayed in her country.
Another difference shared by the panelists is the difference in communication styles between cultures. Many commented that people in the U.S. are more direct and vocal than what they experience in their own countries. “We are not direct; we are indirect,” said Arachchige, who is the first female community corrections officer in Sri Lanka. “But here people are direct, and I like that very much. [It] is very easy to communicate.”
The panel discussion helped shed light on some of the “culture shock” issues that international students may face when coming to the U.S. and that domestic students face when going abroad. When asked what most affected her during the evening’s discussion, Sites stated “The most influential part of tonight was hearing the Humphrey Fellows talk about how they learned from our culture while also implementing their own cultures. They try to educate others about how they live their lives on a daily basis, while respecting the differences. That really made me conscious of other international students who are coming [to VCU] and that they may be experiencing these things.”
Dr. Leslie Bozeman, associate director of global engagement, coordinates the Global Engagement Series. Bozeman stated that “One of the goals of the VCU Globe program is to connect the participants with international populations on campus, from short-term visitors to VCU’s own faculty and staff. In doing so, we work in concert with GEO’s International Students and Scholars Program and other departments across campus.” When asked about the expected frequency of the series she stated, “Currently, the series is envisioned for once a semester, but we may be able to hold additional events.”
The first VCU Globe Global Engagement Series features five 2013-14 Humphrey Fellows as panelists. From left to right: Asha Hetti Arachchige, Enkelejda Ngjelina, Fernanda De Conto, Martine Hennequin, and Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham.
The Fellows engage the VCU Globe students in a lively discussion about their home countries, impressions of being in the U.S., and their current professions and studies with the program.
Co-facilitator Adriana Hite poses a question to the panel of Humphrey Fellows.
Co-facilitator Angela Ward (left) listens intently as Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham of Myanmar elaborates on a response to the student moderators’ questions.
The Fellows display items from their country to share with the audience. Asha Hetti Arachchige showcases Ceylon tea found in her country, Sri Lanka.
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