Maggie grew up in Columbus, Indiana, which is a small city without significant diversity. “Most people are pretty similar,” she said. Before this program, most of what she knew about Iraq was not positive. Her impression from the media was that it was a place where conditions were dangerous and unsafe.
Although from a larger city, Mustafa, a first-year student at the University of Technology, grew up in an environment where most people were also quite similar. Unlike Maggie, he knew a bit about the United States, having learned about American culture by watching movies and interacting with Americans through online gaming.
What these two students have in common is an interest in the graphic arts and learning about different cultures. Through a six-week interactive virtual exchange in graphic communication, taught by Dr. Renmei Xu, an associate professor in the school of art at Ball State, they were able to experience both.
Maggie participated as part of her coursework, which is something she did not expect from a course on graphic design. At first, she was confused about how this would affect her academically. On the other hand, Mustafa joined the virtual exchange as an extra-curricular learning experience. He was very excited from the beginning and saw this as an opportunity to improve his English skills.
The students engaged in learning through reading, questions presented by faculty, and online discussions. Before they began the academic part of the program, the students met on a personal level to encourage more robust communication. Mustafa was eager to communicate immediately. “I have looked for opportunities to talk and learn with people from the United States, and now I had a chance,” he said.