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2023 - Virtual exchange program brings a global perspective to ECC campus

Tags: Academics
Published 02/22/2023
Elgin Community College across Lake Spartan

Elgin Community College across Lake Spartan

Even before the pandemic curbed global travel, not all students had an opportunity to participate in a study abroad program. To give more Elgin Community College students a chance to experience an international education, the Global/International Studies Taskforce developed the Virtual Exchange Program. 

The first Virtual Exchange program, EDU Africa, started in the spring of 2022. EDU Africa aims to help students broaden their intellectual horizons and grow personally, cross-culturally, professionally, and as global citizens. The program explores consumerism and how the consumer behavior patterns of the United States impact the social, political, economic, and environmental contexts of African countries, South Africa in particular, where it is based. The students in the program come from various African countries.

Ginger Alms, associate professor of English, and Lauren Nehlsen, PhD, associate dean of recruitment, outreach services, and global engagement, worked together to embed EDU Africa engagement into existing ECC courses, including English and sociology courses. Using Zoom or other communication tools, students in ECC classes talk to and work with students and experts on various topics.

“This program is important because we have diverse populations within our community, and the workforce students graduate into is increasingly globalized,” said Alms. “It also gives students a look into how our actions locally impact populations globally, and they can challenge each other by engaging in diverse perspectives and practicing new ways of thinking.”

Each semester explores a different theme. During the first semester, Alms worked with a program director from South Africa to develop the theme of “Capitalist Consumer Patterns and Their Global Impact.” Students studied ‘Fast Fashion’ or ‘Cobalt Mining and Electronics.’ They wrote narratives demonstrating their connection to the topic and critically analyzed opinion pieces on their topic of choice.

“Together with students from South Africa, our students are allowed to become co-investigators in the learning process through sustained discussions and shared activities,” said Alms. “They interact with guest speakers and research, read, and write about topics that involve real-world issues.”

In the fall of 2022, students studied ideas of ‘Green Spaces and Personal Identity.’ A young South African graffiti artist named Njabulo “Dirty Native” Hlophe spoke to Alms’ students about his use of art to create conversation on space and class. This theme carries over to the current semester, as Dirty Native returns to discuss the topic of “Personal Identity,” in addition to Erica De Greef, PhD, professor of fashion and textiles from the African Fashion Research Institute in South Africa.

“I thought the experience with Dirty Native was great; he was incredibly passionate when he spoke,” said ECC student Dylan Stevens. “I come from Hampshire, so it was awesome to connect with someone like him, an artist who loves fashion and music just like me. I think many people here haven’t been exposed to much outside of Illinois and social media, so EDU Africa allows us to talk face to face and gain insight into another life on a more human level.”

The EDU Africa Virtual Exchange program is included in specific courses. For more information on the program, contact Lauren Nehlsen at