Marymount Course Uses Global Network to Bridge Distances, Cultural Divides

It’s better to find common ground than to focus on differences.

That’s something drs. Loes Damhof, a senior lecturer at Hanze University in the Netherlands, found is the best approach to co-teaching a virtual course composed of students separated by the Atlantic Ocean. For the past six years, she and Dr. Janine DeWitt of Marymount University have taught The Global Village together, where students from both places explore globalization, engage in cross-cultural dialogues and seek multiple perspectives on global issues.

The honors class, taught in English, has been a learning experience for the professors as well.

“I thought I was interculturally competent until I got online,” said Damhof, who knows five languages and laughed at the memory. “It really comes down to a good collaboration. It really taught me to have empathy, to place myself in another person’s point of view.”

Damhof, the Netherlands’ lecturer of the year in 2016, was on the Marymount campus in November before she and DeWitt headed to the Council on International Economic Exchange (CIEE) Conference in Austin, where they were part of a presentation on globally networked learning, along with MU’s Dr. Matthew Bakker and Terry Graham of the Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara, Mexico.

“When we say that globalization is here and affecting our lives, we don’t often reflect on how deeply that is the case,” said DeWitt, chair of Marymount’s Sociology Department.

“Oftentimes we take a lot for granted,” she said. “When you have a class like this, you’ve constantly got someone from another place in the world with a different vantage point providing a much richer perspective. As instructors, we walked into this thinking we would have Dutch students and American students. In fact, both classes include students from all over the world. That richness just changes the conversation and helps students understand the meaning of global connections.”

A few differences in perspective Damhof noted:

  • Students in the U.S. really need to know what’s expected of them and are very focused on their grades, while Dutch students are used to a less-structured learning experience.
  • While cars are everywhere here, “everybody in the Netherlands is on a bike,” she said.
  • The Dutch take a different approach to work/life balance. “We have a much more clear divide between weekends and work time,” she said.

Then there’s the issue of climate change.

“We can talk about climate change in the U.S.,” DeWitt said. “But it doesn’t mean the same thing as in the Netherlands, where part of the country is below sea level.”

During the first year of the course, Hurricane Sandy knocked out power in parts of Northern Virginia.

“In the Netherlands they had no experience with violent weather like that,” she said.

This past summer, DeWitt and Damhof adapted The Global Village course for high school students, and Damhof came here to co-teach a two-week, three-credit offering from July 9-21 that allowed students to examine the degree to which people around the world are globally interconnected.

“We examined how this increasing global interdependence impacts our daily lives and how our interdependence can affect the future,” DeWitt said.

Students learned firsthand how cultural globalization impacts how they view the world.

“As we saw at the Newseum exhibits, before social media, foreign news was slow and seemingly distant,” said Matt Bova, a senior from Arlington. “Now, with cell phones in all but the most oppressed countries, every international event can be captured with multiple angles.”

Bova explained that this can lead to the misconception that the world has gotten more violent, when, in fact, the lens – rather than the subject – has widened.

Mikayla Ware, a senior from Alexandria, found that going on field trips helped her better obtain and absorb information rather than sitting in class and taking notes.

“Whether we went to visit a museum, walked around campus, watched a movie, or played a board game, I felt more connected to my work and the class,” Ware said.

She said globalization will make the world more open-minded and diverse.

“People will be more aware of their actions, or lack thereof, and how they affect others and the world around us,” she said.

Marymount has also added another globally networked class, a course called Human Rights, this time taught by MU’s Bakker, an assistant professor of sociology, and Graham in Mexico. Graham said the course, which will be offered again this spring, provides an intercultural experience to students who may not have the time, finances or desire to travel abroad. The experience informs, on multiple levels, their view of the world.

“The students grew in their understanding of one another and how culture and experience affect attitude and opinion,” she said. “Watching students grow emotionally and mentally is not an everyday experience for a teacher. They do, obviously, grow and mature, but teachers don’t always get to see it. This course allowed us to see some of it.”

Photo captions
Photo 1
Loes Damhof, a senior lecturer at Hanze University in the Netherlands, is on screen in the Arlington classroom of Janine DeWitt of Marymount University. For the past six years they’ve taught The Global Village, where students from both places explore globalization, engage in cross-cultural dialogues and seek multiple perspectives on global issues.

Photo 2
Loes Damhof is shown with students on the National Mall. The Dutch professor was here this summer to co-teach The Global Village, a two-week adaption of the course where the high school students could earn three college credits.

Photo 3
Students at the Marymount summer institute saw this depiction of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum, an interactive museum dedicated to journalism.