We Need To Talk!

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Imagine meeting with peers from around the world, once a week for two hours, to share ideas, reflect on current events, and build friendships. “Oh, but the price of plane tickets!” you might lament. Or, “Might be nice for you folks living in Paris, New York, and Cairo! What about those of us living in less cosmopolitan joints?” another might pipe in. “I’m thinking about the logistics of this and, well, if we want to have a conversation with a group of folks from Qatar, Tunisia, the USA, Morocco, and Egypt all at once…well, it looks like the best way to do it is to….

JOIN the Soliya Connect Program. Why?

In an increasingly interdependent world, cross-cultural education and exchange should no longer be considered a luxury for the privileged elite – to succeed in the global economy and address complex global challenges, all young people will need to develop a basic level of cross-cultural awareness and understanding. Soliya’s Connect Program is a new approach to cross-cultural exchange that has the potential to dramatically increase access to intercultural education. (Source)

Why do I spend nearly 20 hours per week on Soliya-related work? As a VOLUNTEER?!!?!

I am passionate about cross-cultural exchange and dialogue. Many of us are baffled and frustrated by the ways in which our differences create conflict and misunderstandings. Unfortunately, those misunderstandings can and often do escalate into violence or ill-feelings. In my opinion, conflict is a positive thing, we simply must learn creative, productive methods for working with conflict. Differences allow us to approach ideas from different perspectives. When we allow ourselves to listen and take seriously other’s perspectives, we learn, grow, and develop a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. Soliya is an ideal platform for this type of exchange. Yay!

What is the downside of the Soliya Connect Program?

My sleep schedule has changed…a lot. In fact, I am bursting with energy and so I wake up earlier and go to bed later. If you count this as a “down side” then this is it but I must admit….I’m PSYCHED.

How does it work?

Two Soliya-trained facilitators join eight to ten participants from around the world in live online classrooms to engage in dialogue about various issues. Soliya provides a suggested curriculum for facilitators that outlines various activities designed to help participants acclimate to the platform and begin to develop group cohesion. My colleagues at Soliya (I’m just beginning my first semester as a facilitator) tell me that the initial sessions can at times be a bit awkward and slow moving but as the semester progresses, participants become more engaged and develop stronger connections with their peers in the “room.” (We refer to the live online session space as “the room.”) That wasn’t the case with our group!

The atmosphere in our group’s first session reminded me of the horse races (ahem), not that, uh, I, am a regular at the…(cough) horse races…moving on. What I mean is this, my co-facilitator and I had dutifully planned a session during which we would welcome folks into the room, deal with the inevitable tech issues that were likely to arise, address the power dynamic related to language (the sessions are conducted in English but half of the participants are not native English speakers), do a language exercise to experience that language issue more personally, provide an introduction to the program, develop an agreement (aka ground rules) about how we will engage one another throughout the process, and finish with an identity activity. Would we run out of time, would we have to pull teeth, do backbends, and deploy Yogi mind powers to encourage participants to engage?

Holy Irresistible Urge to Connect Batman! As we moved through (uh, raced through) the introductory activities there was a palpable sense of urgency, passion, and enthusiasm for connecting. It wasn’t just a feeling. Each participant articulated plainly in his or her own words, “I want to hear your ideas! I want to experience different perspectives!” There was also an instant connection through language–Arabic native speakers volunteered to help English native  speakers learn Arabic. The English native speakers offered to help the non-native speakers improve their English language skills. Two participants communicated in Spanish during the language exercise and there seemed to be an overall feeling of “Yeah, yeah, language difference, varying world views, we get it…Can we move on to the CONNECT part now?!”

By the end of our session, my co-facilitator and I were BOTH blown away by the intensity and pure beauty of the exchange.  All participants regularly agreed that they’d appreciate interacting in a Facebook group. We established the page and watched as the exchange spilled into the FB group. We got messages from participants letting us know that they are meeting each other to chat on FB and really enjoying the exchange. It’s only been one week! I am eager to see how our second session will unfold.

Two Soliya colleagues and I will be sharing our experiences with Exchange 2.0 and our ideas about educational opportunities and obstacles in post-Mubarak Egypt at the Global Washington Annual Conference. My next post will explore Facebook as a medium for cross-cultural exchange and dialogue.


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