Southern Institute of Technology cultural education exchange introduces Aotearoa to Kansas

People & Culture

With so few overseas students able to come to New Zealand while our borders are closed, education providers are coming up with innovative ways of connecting learners with their peers offshore. And everyone wins.

When Covid hit, the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) knew that it was well placed to engage with its students digitally, as it already had a well-established distance learning faculty. The next move was to look at how that capability could be used for international education.

Using distance learning for cultural education internationally

Beyond widening its offering of fees-based online courses, SIT understood the value of establishing cultural exchanges which would engage current learners and potentially generate interest from future learners, says Study Abroad and Partnership Officer Whitney Irwin. She worked in collaboration with the School of Business faculty to set up the cultural exchange between SIT students and those at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Kansas, USA. “Being able to create buy-in and have a motivated faculty to get partnership projects across the line is the key to success. SIT has a wonderful culture, and we have all worked together to reorientate our international strategy for the greater good of SIT and our wider community.”

Experiencing New Zealand Life from afar

Twenty-five JCCC Economics students asked to be involved out of a class of sixty, reflecting a desire to learn about far-flung New Zealand, meet global peers and to try something new. From SIT, 23 Management students and 28 Communications students took part, with both groups of students using the interactions to produce assessed work.

Using Zoom, Snapchat, and Instagram, students interviewed each other to learn about our different cultures, looking at differences in communication, lifestyle, politics, and making economic comparisons. Minimum wage, average house prices, and everyday living costs were compared, what the US and NZ dollar bought, and who was actually better off overall.

They learned about New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, rural life, Māori culture, the filming of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, our outdoors lifestyle, and our connections with Australia. They also explored more personal subjects - relationships, music preferences, religious beliefs, parental expectations, and what they did in their spare time.

“The Kansas students now have a real sense of the kind of people we are,” Ms Coburn says.

Creating opportunities with a cultural education exchange

Digital collaboration also presents an opportunity for students, both in New Zealand and offshore, who could never afford to travel or would be uncomfortable leaving their home country, to still experience the cultural exchange which international education offers,” Ms Irwin says.

And this has proved to be the case, with six Kansas students already saying they are keen to come to New Zealand.

“All going well, the intention is to host JCCC students here at SIT in 2023.” Ms Irwin says she expects the changes in the ways education is being delivered will continue well into the post-Covid environment.

“Virtual exchanges are a fantastic collaboration of ideas, which can lead on to the development of other educational products and services.”

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