For most international students, studying abroad at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln involves traveling to the United States. But for 30 Egyptian students this summer, Nebraska overcame travel restrictions and a global pandemic to offer a cultural exchange through the power of online courses and virtual programming.
Spearheaded by the Office of Global Strategies, Nebraska’s Cultural, Professional and Academic Virtual Exchange Program has helped the Egyptian students prepare for their future career and experience American culture through online summer courses, virtual events with Nebraska students and an immersive cultural program planned for the spring (pending global conditions) that includes an entrepreneurship pitch competition. The program is part of a special opportunity funded by USAID and American-Mideast Educational and Training Services to provide the 30 U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative students an alternative to a traditional study abroad experience.Expanding an international partnership
For the past three years, the Office of Global Strategies and Education Abroad Office have partnered with AMIDEAST to provide exchange programs for Egyptian students and send Nebraska students to the Middle East and North Africa region on AMIDEAST study abroad programs. The CPAVE Program represents a continued dedication of the university to support students in the region and collaborate with key international partners to offer innovative programs during unprecedented times.
“COVID-19 is going to change the future of education not just in Egypt, but globally as well,” said Ahmed Shehata, study abroad coordinator for AMIDEAST Egypt. “We are delighted that the AMIDEAST HEI scholarship program and UNL get to facilitate this for the first time. Students have always come back telling us how the UNL community has been always caring and supportive towards them and making them feel at home away from home.”
In addition to expanding Nebraska’s relationship with AMIDEAST, the Office of Global Strategies collaborated with the College of Business’s Center for Entrepreneurship to bring in additional expertise on preparing for a career as the world continues to adjust to a global pandemic. During Nebraska’s second five-week session of summer courses, the Egyptian students took two courses — one related to their field of study, and the other a special version of Entrepreneurship 423: Business Plan Development and Decision Making.
“This program with AMIDEAST is exactly the kind of expanded global engagement Nebraska hopes to build in alignment with Aim 4 of the N2025 Strategic Plan,” said Josh Davis, associate vice chancellor for global affairs. “Moreover, it’s an example of an innovative internal partnership that shows how academic units and offices can collaborate to find new funding sources and support campus internationalization.”Preparing students for the future
Taught by Samuel Nelson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, the special entrepreneurship course all 30 Egyptian students enrolled in as part of the CPAVE program helps them learn the process of identifying a community need and turning it into a business.
“We are trying to get them to come up with market-based solutions for everyday problems or needs,” Nelson said. “My biggest hope is that students realize that they feel empowered to solve problems wherever they are in the world and that they can use the process and collect the resources to do so.”
Nelson also hopes the students take the basic understanding of what he calls the “toolset of change” and use it to support their business endeavors wherever they are in the world, which has already inspired some students.
“The program is a unique opportunity to learn more about the culture and new ways of learning,” said Rehab Mahmoud Hassan, one of the Egyptian students participating in the program. “For me, it was like an inspiration to my career goal.”
Due to current world conditions, adjustments were made for the virtual exchange component to empower students to succeed. Brent Martin, coordinator at the Center for Entrepreneurship, is optimistic about the connections students are making. He believes global engagement and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand and that this exchange program is important, even if some components are virtual.
“We are realizing through virtual engagement we can establish that back and forth that is usually done through face to face and build a larger community through technology,” Martin said.
Along with the virtual courses, the Egyptian students are scheduled to visit campus in the spring to collaborate on their business projects and participate in a competition, if conditions allow. The 48-Hour Challenge, which guides student teams through preparing a fully-developed business pitch in 48 hours, will be the best form of collaboration for Egyptian students, according to Nelson.A mutual exchange
Throughout the summer, the HEI students were also given several opportunities to join virtual events to engage in Nebraskan and American culture. Entrepreneurship-specific events — such as Founder Fridays and Monday Motivation Co-Working hosted by the Big Red Startups Club — are weekly events that gave Egyptian students a chance to collaborate with Nebraska students and Lincoln community members.
“This program is the gateway to other adventures and a great way to dip your toe into the world of travel before committing to a huge international trip,” said Egyptian student Merna Elawadly. “I’m learning how to communicate with people from different languages and backgrounds which will help prepare [me] for when I do go overseas in the future.”
The HEI students also engaged in social video calls with students from registered student organizations at Nebraska. Nebraska’s African Student Association was one such group that collaborated to host a Zoom session with AMIDEAST students to give them a taste of life on campus and answer questions about student life in the U.S. and at Nebraska.
With an innovative approach to cultural exchange in the midst of an ever-changing pandemic, Nelson is proud the Egyptian students still have an opportunity to learn and engage with different cultures.
“I am glad we launched this program, and we are starting to see the benefit by maintaining these types of programs,” he said. “We shouldn’t put cultural exchange on hold because of what is going on because it is important for both American and Egyptian students.”
Nebraska’s 2020 Cultural, Professional and Academic Virtual Exchange (CPAVE) Program is part of the U.S.–Egypt Higher Education Initiative funded by USAID, supported by the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and administered by AMIDEAST. To learn more about the program, contact the Office of Global Strategies at firstname.lastname@example.org