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Study Abroad Online

A creative alternative to travel.

Orb With the brakes pulled suddenly on all Study Abroad programs scheduled for the summer of 2020, SUNY decided to create an alternative: the COIL Global Commons Program, offering online opportunities for international summer experiences. It’s certainly no substitute for global travel and the cultural immersion that comes with it—but this new model may be a good companion program for those who just can’t afford to leave the country.

Global Commons courses comprise two segments: an intercultural storytelling skills component, where students learn how to tell another culture’s story with sensitivity and respect, and an immersion with an NGO (non-governmental organization) to focus on one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

When Linda Gironda, adjunct lecturer in the Liberal Studies: Legal Studies program, first learned about Global Commons, she answered the call for curriculum developers and facilitators. The course that she created, facilitated, and delivered for the pilot program explored International Perspectives on Reduced Inequalities with a Lens on Law and Social Justice. Her students worked with Inkululeko, a South African organization dedicated to empowering disadvantaged youth to succeed academically and socially, to create videos to help promote their work.

“It was the most remarkable experience I’ve had as an educator. It was really fantastic,” she says. This past summer, her 2021 cohort created a video in partnership with the Hope Revival Children’s Organization in Tanzania. “It was another rewarding experience,” she says.

Maria Morais ’21 (language and culture) had been planning her first study abroad trip to Costa Rica in the summer of 2020 to help with The Sea Turtle Conservation program. Instead, through Global Commons, she and a group of other SUNY students helped create a website for the Center for Creative Ecology at Kibbutz Lotan in Israel to promote a course on sustainability. While she acknowledges it was no substitute for an experience in-person, Morais found the coursework valuable. “We built an amazing website for the kibbutz. Participating in the study virtually was an incredible experience,” she says. Morais is currently enrolled in a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) course to earn an ESL teaching license with hopes to pursue a TESOL graduate degree.

Eliyahu Greenwald ’22 (graphic design) participated in a SUNY Global Commons course this past summer. His group created a website for the Koiyaki Guiding School, an NGO in Southwest Kenya that supports the local Massai population through education and tourism training. Greenwald considered the experience an important stepping stone in his development as a student and a creator. “After completing the program, I feel a bit more focused on what I want to do in life,” he says. “I would like to volunteer, apply for internships, or find a way I can incorporate my creative skills and passions into causes like the ones we spent all our time on. Even small things can make a huge positive impact.” He hopes to merge his passion for the arts, culture, and the environment. “It is up to us if we want to preserve what we have left and leave it to future generations.”

The Global Commons program is an offshoot of the existing SUNY COIL model—Collaborative Online International Learning—with a mission to “connect students and professors in different countries for collaborative projects and discussions as part of their coursework.” Gironda had experience teaching a course through SUNY’s COIL Center. (It’s worth noting that COIL was created on the campus of Purchase College by Associate Professor Emeritus of Film Jon Rubin).

Gironda has been involved with COIL—which traditionally inserts a collaborative project in the middle of the semester—since 2017. Working with biology professor Cesar Arias Martinez from Universidad La Salle Morelia in Mexico, she implemented the COIL model into her Law, Order, and Disobedience class, where students examined the bioethics and worldwide implications of euthanasia. Gironda finds the COIL model incredibly rewarding. “It’s an awful lot of work, but it’s really a labor of love,” she says.

She’s implemented another COIL module this fall in her Anatomy of a Trial and the Jury Process course. Working in tandem with a political science class in Colombia, the students worked on cross-cultural teams examining international perspectives on human rights.

Gironda is a lawyer. Prior to earning her law degree, she earned an MBA and worked in corporate marketing. She also earned an EdD from Columbia University, focusing her dissertation on virtual distance learning and how college educators use online technology to help students embrace cultural diversity, challenge stereotypes, and develop cross-cultural competency. The COIL and Global Commons programs were a natural choice for her.

Gironda say she’s on board if SUNY decides to continue the summer Global Commons program, even when traditional study abroad trips resume. “Students have an opportunity to work with another culture, challenge stereotypes, and promote diversity. I think it’s worthwhile.”