By Aliah Salih | This story appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of AUCToday.
The more you learn about the world, the more you learn about yourself — a philosophy shared by faculty members Mohamed Menza, affiliate assistant professor of the Core Curriculum and director of the Dialogue Program, and Hakim Meshreki, assistant professor of marketing.
Building on this philosophy, students from the School of Business went to South Africa on a weeklong study trip with Meshreki, while Menza’s students connected with the United States and pockets of the Global South — Nigeria, South Africa and India —
South-South Dialogue: Perceptions and Reflections from the Global South is a capstone-level course under the Core Curriculum, where — every other week — students are taken out of the realm of textbooks and readings and connected to universities from different places. “We have diverse partners across the Global South,” explained Menza. “The point is that they are diverse, which serves the multidisciplinary nature of the course.”
AUC students and their overseas peers conduct readings on a specific subject, ranging from economics and politics to gender and sociology, and then discuss concepts together the following week. “The opportunity to have videoconferencing sessions with people from around the world and discuss matters with them was very compelling,” said Suliema Benhalim, economics senior and entrepreneur. “It allowed me to implement a lot of what I learned in economics to a more cultural side of each topic.”
This is the value that liberal arts education adds to each student, Menza noted. “Departments have their own limitations, but this is the benefit of the Core Curriculum. You’re not confined to academic contours or certain angles,” Menza explained. “We try to merge the gap between academia and the real world.”
The course — which combines internationalization, blended learning and cross-cultural dialogue — included videoconferencing sessions with the American University of Nigeria, Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, University of the Western Cape in South Africa and Amrita School of Business in India.
The multilateral Dialogue Program course series was first introduced in 2001, not too long after September 11, when there was a dire need for challenging emerging stereotypes and promoting an East-West exchange of ideas. The course’s impact on students is not confined to dialoguing or written skills, but also changing perceptions and preconceived notions. “I honestly saw another side of each country,” said Benhalim. “I found the conversation with Nigeria very interesting because we discussed many topics under gender, from cultural implementations of gender differences to political instability and the lack of gender equality in politics. I learned more about the problems they face and about our cultural similarities and differences.”
An AUC study trip, organized by the School of Business, to the University of Stellenbosch Business School last spring enhanced the business and economic outlook of students. “If you are a business person,” explained Meshreki, “you may launch a new idea based on a perception you have that may not be right. How different cultures will perceive your idea cannot be based on your own perceptions; it has to be based on reality. During the trip, students learned that perceptions might not be real. They were shocked to view reality against their own perceptions, but if we want to build international leaders, we should make sure they’re getting this global encounter.”
The students were able to see three major sides of business in South Africa: academic institutions, entrepreneurial ventures and corporations. They attended lectures at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and visited two extremes of the business world in South Africa: multinational corporations and entrepreneurs from impoverished districts, including one who created a coffee stand similar to Starbucks in his neighborhood. “When we met the entrepreneurs and heard their stories, the idea of ‘getting good grades to feel like I learned’ changed inside me,” said Reem Yakout, a junior majoring in management of information and communication. “Being an entrepreneur is hard, but that’s the point. This trip made me realize it’s not all about work as much as it is about what I want to do and how to do it.”
The comparative perspective with South Africa was also eye-opening. “My favorite lecture was the Economics of South Africa; it made me think of Egypt’s economy,” said Yakout. “I remember thinking, ‘Why doesn’t Egypt have something like this? It surprised and inspired me.”
The study trip was distinctive in the international exposure it provided. “Exploring the history and culture of South Africa gave me insights about the country and how I can deal with people in business, in different countries and in the future,” said Yasmine El Tayeb ’17, a business marketing graduate who attended the course as a graduating senior. “We explored different teaching methods employed by professors and gained great international exposure, as well as the pleasure of knowing and understanding other cultures. Internationalization in the curriculum builds your character and enhances your career prospects.”