Visiting students help improve cross-cultural understanding

July 25, 2016

Students from University of Antsiranana visiting Western University

Students from the University of Antsiranana in Madagascar were at Western for six weeks, exploring the value of cultural exchange. - Photo by Andrew Walsh

What is the value of cultural exchange? That was one of the questions addressed by a group of Anthropology students, working with visiting students from the University of Antsiranana in Madagascar.

Students from Western worked with the Malagasy students to learn the value of working with populations, developing the focus on collaboration. Andrew Walsh is a professor in the Department of Anthropology and organized the exchange, as part of a summer Anthropology course.

Walsh says the typical student exchange is seen as sending overseas as “Western kids going elsewhere ‘doing good’. Often when students go overseas, they help as schools or in the community. This year, the exchange flipped that idea around,” said Walsh. ”We brought students to Canada, providing an opportunity for them, but we also had the opportunity to learn from them and have them contribute to the community through local partnerships.”

While here, the Malagasy students worked with Western International to develop resources to better prepare students participating in international exchange, internships or service learning projects.

“We want to avoid sending students without knowledge or understanding” said Walsh. While students do receive information about general cultural experiences, the Malagasy students will be able to provide insight on what it is like to be on the receiving end of service learning, and focus on ethical questions of exchanges, like trying to understand the power dynamics represented by exchange relationships.

“Approaching work collaboratively provides diverse ideas and knowledges to work together and ultimately contributes to more holistic and comprehensive outcomes,” said Danielle Carr, Western Heads East Program Coordinator. “This ‘fair-trade’ approach to learning embodies how we approach our work internationally and demonstrates our overall commitment to meaningful, ethical and impactful partnerships.”

“These six weeks were very intense, fun, valuable and very informative,” said Tahosy Radaniarison, a participating Malagasy student. “I learned I could share my point of views. I could also work on a specific project, and even though our societies are different, I could still contribute.”

But the involvement did not end with the course.

The Malagasy participants are all students in Applied Linguistics. During the month of July, they participated in courses offered by the Western English Language Centre in the Faculty of Education. They used this opportunity to work on research projects concerning teaching English to speakers of another language, and contributed their knowledge on the subject.

“The connection with WELC was great. It’s always interest to observe other teachers, and interesting to see how teaching and classroom management are approached in western culture,” said Radaniarison.

“The Professors in the Faculty of Education have been very useful,” said Martelline Razafindravola, one of the visiting students. “We had a chance to show them our research and they were willing to provide support and provide more resources to help with our dissertations.”

The approach is reflective of the long-standing relationship Western has had with the University of Antsiranana; this is the eighth year of the exchange, and Walsh, who has developed this exchange program with his Department of Anthropology colleague Ian Colquhoun, explains that the partnership provides a perspective that other exchange programs do not have.

“The outcomes of the program are important, but we tend to ignore the relationships themselves,” said Walsh. “They grow stronger the longer they exist.”