SDGs Stories

Cross-cultural learning and cross-social experience—International Partnership Learning Research Project 2021

International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC) International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC) International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC) International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC)

Since the 1970s, Professor Lo Shi-Wei, who established the Department of Social Work and held the position of the Department Director, has endeavoured to integrate global experiences in the bachelor courses of the Department of Sociology and Department of Social Work. Professor Lo proposed providing students with cross-cultural experiences in neighbouring Asian countries to achieve holistic education.

In the previously designed exchange event for Asian students, teachers attempted to provide multiple learning opportunities for university students to promote cultural exchanges between Asian students from various countries, thereby expanding students’ global vision and imagination. This enabled students to learn and connect through practical experiences and by living in overseas countries. This design was realised in the Asian Students Seminar launched by Professor Lo in 1983; the course design focused on the higher education experience in East Asia and Southeast Asia to provide students with insights on academic and cross-cultural differences.

Driven by social changes, the government implemented education reforms. In the 1990s, the globalisation programs launched by the Department of Sociology and the Department of Social Work have shifted their course focus from purely academic exchanges to having students experience 10 days of living in a slum area of Navotas, Manila. This course provides students with an off-campus experience and a first-hand opportunity to examine the problem of poverty, thus cultivating their ability to switch perspectives.

Influenced by the promotion of the experiential education model in the higher education fields of the United States and other countries, in 2004, Professor Lo led a team of teachers and students to Cambodia to attend a conference and develop partner-based learning programs. To actively promote the concept of partner-based learning in higher education teaching and research fields, a team of international education researchers who agreed to the learning concept was formed to enable collaborations with the alumni of the Department of Sociology and the Department of Social Works.

In September 2007, FJCU established the Partner-based Learning Center, which combined international partner-based learning, course teaching, and academic research. At present, it continues to research and evaluate partner-based learning programs, including the teaching and research programs of institutions in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand; international corporation experience learning programs and research; and medical programs developed through cooperation between health and education institutions.

To promote education equity, mitigate the wealth gap, and address the society demands brought about by globalisation, FJCU employed the global cooperation network of the Catholic church to coordinate efforts with churches in Southeast Asian countries (including Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand) to perform a survey research with local government or private organisations and uncover the causes behind the low education level and societal problems of the local region. Through outcome analysis and comparative research, the collaboration project revealed that the causes of low education levels and societal problems in local regions involved societal, economic, and cultural dimensions. Because the causes were deeply influenced by regional and cultural differences, to devise the optimal improvement model for each region, the demands of multiple social aspects must be researched and considered. Furthermore, the devised model should incorporate regional mechanisms for promoting collaborations; this enables local educators to apply the optimal improvement model, make improvements, and integrate the model into the education system. By having student volunteers engage in and participate in this process, they can gain a deeper understanding of people of various ethnicities, nationalities, and religious beliefs. In addition to improving the local problems, students can better accept and appreciate cultural differences by developing a better understanding of these differences.

Project vision

  1. Promote cross-cultural exchange and interdisciplinary collaboration; launch relocation lifestyle experience courses; and encourage students to discover, consider, and solve problems to develop active learning habits and abilities for making decisions and undertaking responsibilities.

  2. Achieve holistic education in higher education while promoting cross-cultural exchange and interdisciplinary collaboration; emphasise mutual interactions in teacher–student partnerships; and develop effective education models.

  3. Continue holding education programs and intercollegiate seminars with institutions in China, Taiwan, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand; and review and improve the current program according to research results.

Project goals

  1. Deepen the relationships between alumni, teachers, students, and foreign counterparts; hold seminars to examine research results; and improve the current program.

    1. Equip FJCU students with

      1. Emphasis on humanistic care.

      2. Improved global literacy.

      3. Autonomous learning habits.

    2. Provide service recipients with

      1. High-quality early childhood education, elementary school education, middle school education, and improved learning outcomes.

      2. Integration among individuals of different genders, ages, ethnicities, nationalities, identities, and positions.

      3. International support and the abilities of citizens living in the Southern Hemisphere, thereby providing them with the ability to support themselves.

    Project research and implementation methods

    1. Assist in improving local education in countries in the Southern Hemisphere:

      1. Cambodia program
      2. When Cambodia was ruled by the Khmer Rouge, urban citizens were forced to move to the countryside, and the country suffered considerable losses due to a civil war. At present, Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with 70% of the labour force being concentrated in the agricultural sector. The poverty rate of the Banteay Meanchey province was 31%–50%, which was the highest in Cambodia (Atlas Committee, 2006). In other words, the economic conditions of the service region of FJCU are worse relative to those of other regions. The program provides service to Sisophon, Banteay Meanchey, and collaborates with Fr. Greg from the local service centre of the Society of Jesus. Previously developed education programs mainly provided scholarships, textbooks, uniforms, bicycles, faculty wage subsidies, and funding for the maintenance and construction of schools. The courses provided to Cambodian students include English and traditional dancing courses. The 2006 program evaluation revealed room for improvement with respect to local teacher resources and English education quality. After considering various causes, evaluating the improvement outcomes of various strategies, and holding discussions and designing courses, FJCU determined that the program would be led by the local Society of Jesus, and that it would provide 2 weeks of English education courses for service recipients.
        Student volunteer participation:
        The program’s planning phase commences in April, and students departs in July. For the program, six students and teachers are selected by the centre to stay in Sisophon, Cambodia for 2 to 3 weeks and to engage in exchanges and collaborations with the local Society of Jesus and churches. In 2020, the program served approximately 50 children and guided students in opening up, developing tolerance, and interacting with people from various cultures. Through the process of communication and collaboration, students reflect on themselves and make observations, thereby facilitating personal growth through partner-based cultural exchanges.

      3. Philippines program
      4. The main problem encountered by the Philippines in the educational field is the shortage of school dormitories and equipment for children of all ages. Half of the public schools in the Philippines also do not have a principal, and most teachers and principals have left their positions in pursuit of higher wages overseas. Another problem is poverty. On June 28, 2012, the CommonWealth Magazine reported that because of limited government funding, the country can only provide elementary-level compulsory education. Because many families cannot afford a yearly tuition fee of US$10 tuition, many students are forced to drop out of school, leading to the attendance rate for elementary education decreasing to less than 50%. These factors, in addition to the pressure created by population expansion, resulted in severe poverty among Filipino people. Therefore, through collaborations with nongovernmental organisations and the Prevent Poverty Foundation with the aim of developing local education and medical resources, the program provides an experience of poverty for FJCU students and 2 weeks of English teaching activities for children from the slums.
        Student volunteer participation:
        The program’s planning phase commences in September, and students departs in January or February next year. For the program, eight to ten students and teachers are assigned by the centre to stay in Navotas, Philippines, for 2 weeks. Because the purpose of the program is partner-based learning, the program focuses on student cultivation and guiding students in understanding themselves. In 2020, the program promoted student engagement with local homestay families and institution personnel and held teaching activities for 90 kindergarteners to provide a unique cultural experience, develop in-person understanding of poverty culture, and guide students in reflecting on cross-cultural exchanges.

      5. Northern Thailand Xavier Learning Community program
      6. The Xavier Learning Community (XLC), which was formally established on August 19, 2017, is situated in Tambon ThakhaoPlueak, Amphoe Maechan, which is 8 km from the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet. Against the backdrop of sociopolitical challenges, the region is home to many indigenous communities with rich traditions and cultures. However, the region has limited infrastructure, low levels of education, and limited higher education opportunities. “Many tribal youths in northern Thailand do not have opportunities to study and develop their abilities because of limited financial resources and social inequality,” said Fr Sugiyo Pitoyo SJ, Superior of the Thailand Jesuit Region during the opening ceremony of the XLC. The XLC recruits impoverished young adults of ethnic minorities and provides them with higher education resources. Young men who lack access to education may live in poverty for the rest of their life, whereas their female counterparts may become sex workers in Bangkok. The XLC is in its initial development stage. The program is expected to enhance local Chinese education resources and establish a long-term collaboration relationship with the XLC.
        Student volunteer participation:
        The program’s planning phase commenced in April 2019, and students departed during the summer of the same year. Each year, the program assigns approximately three students to visit the XLC in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, to participate in a 1-month teaching program. The main program content focused on Chinese teaching and trained FJCU students in competencies related to teaching Chinese. For example, during the 2020 training seminar, FJCU students taught approximately 30 local students. The long-term goal of the program is to cultivate future tourists who are fluent in Chinese and to equip business management course students with the language ability to conduct business with Chinese merchants.

      7. Northern Thailand Huilong program
      8. Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand is a mountainous region situated where the borders of China, Myanmar, and Thailand meet. Currently, the Chinese education infrastructure of Northern Thailand is underdeveloped and lacking teaching resources, with most of the course materials (i.e., basic Chinese textbooks) provided by the Overseas Committee Affairs Council, Republic of China. Given the learning lag of students (i.e., middle school students learning elementary-school-level content and high school students learning middle-school-level content) and shortage of teacher resources (i.e., only two or three self-taught teachers are in service), volunteers are urgently needed to maintain school operations. In 2018, the centre communicated with Father Vinai from Thailand and Principal Fan to understand local needs, which the centre categorised into the three following dimensions:

      1. Societal dimension:
        1. Soldiers from the 1949 Chinese Civil War escaped to and started families in the region, and thus introduced ethnic Chinese descendants into the region.

        2. Frequent business collaborations and exchanges between China and Thailand have prompted Thai people to learn Chinese.

        3. Thai Princess Sirindhorn promotes Chinese education, established Chinese schools, and strengthened cultural exchanges with China.

        4. Northern Thailand Huilong Chinese School Professor Fan requested students to learn Traditional Chinese characters.

      2. Teacher dimension:
        1. Because of limitations with respect to teachers’ abilities, teachers can only teach kindergarten and elementary school students.

        2. The source of teachers for middle-school and higher education are volunteers from ethnic Chinese countries, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. The supply of teachers is unstable, most teachers only provide short-term services, and teachers exhibit inconsistent teaching abilities and quality.

      3. Student volunteer participation:
        1. Financially disadvantaged students who are of Chinese ethnicity or ethnic minority descendants.

        2. Students differ substantially in terms of their education level and require individual counselling.

        3. Learning Chinese can greatly improve the future opportunities of the students (e.g., tour guide or merchant).

        Student volunteer participation :
        The program’s planning phase commenced in September 2019, and it is held annually starting from the January and February of 2020. The program assigns three to four FJCU students to conduct a 2-week course for ethnic minorities and ethnic Chinese students in Mae Salong, Northern Thailand. The main course content consisted of Chinese, English, and mathematics. The program trained FJCU students’ competencies related to teaching and provided education for approximately 80 ethnic Chinese middle school students. Through the promotion of interactions with Chinese teachers, the program familiarized local students with the Chinese language.

  2. Student cultivation:

    1. Engage with people from different cultures to gain a deeper understanding of oneself and create self-development opportunities.

    2. Cultivate students’ abilities to adapt and undertake responsibilities.

    3. Enable students to understand that they are not providing “handouts” and should treat citizens from developing countries equally. Through mutual learning, students can apply appropriate methods for helping others instead of only providing help through means that they consider suitable.

    4. Conduct short-term teaching programs to teach students how to achieve their missions with minimum resources. Students who participate in community research and community learning programs can gain early experience before entering the workforce.