At Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, students refer to each other as “Hocam,” which means, “my professor.”
“The underlying assumption is that everyone has something to learn from each other,” said Ece Yilmaz, graduate assistant for NC State College of Education Global Programs.
That idea is what led to a virtual exchange program between students in the Global Educators program at the NC State College of Education and students majoring in education at Middle East Technical University.
“We wanted students to have some benefits from this program,” Yilmaz said. “Among these benefits were developing cross-cultural friendships, learning from each other’s teaching and learning contexts and practicing cross-cultural communication skills in a safe environment.”
To manage the eight-hour time difference, the virtual meetings were held on Fridays at 10:30 am in Raleigh or 6:30 pm in Ankara. The first meeting started with introductions and icebreakers — students described why they wanted to become teachers and marked where they were from on the map. While students who participated in the program came from different parts of their respective countries, Ece said it was important to ensure students didn’t feel as if they were representing their countries as a whole.
“We highlight that these are individual experiences,” Ece said. “We try to remove the burden of representing everyone in Turkey or representing everyone in the US.”
The second meeting, the buddies meeting, gave students an opportunity for one-on-one conversations.
“I liked the buddy meeting because we had a chance to ask our questions and, due to it, I think we learned better about the education system of both countries and cultures,” said a participant from Middle East Technical University.
Ahead of the meetings, three in total, students at both universities prepared by watching training videos about how to discuss cultural differences with an open mind. Among the topics students discussed include how higher education was structured in each country and how teachers are addressed.
“This program helped me further my interest in increasing my knowledge of global educational philosophies, curriculum, and systems in order to increase and reflect on my own country’s educational processes,” said a participant from the NC State College of Education.
While the students came from different backgrounds, they were surprised by how much in common when it came to their reasons for choosing education. When they created a word cloud about their motivations for becoming teachers, there were similar phrases like: “Making a change,” “Leaving a trace” and “Touching peoples’ lives.”
“I saw that I am not alone in the aspect of what I want to do in education,” said a participant from Middle East Technical University.
Yilmaz said she hopes to have the program again next year and provide opportunities for students to discuss more specific topics, such as primary school, secondary school, quality of textbooks and overall teacher education.
The program has already proved beneficial to College of Education students who took part.
“I was able to offer perspectives that I learned from this exchange in order to contribute to discussions in class, with peers, in conversation, and in the Developing Cultural Competition certificate program,” a participant from the College of Education said.