When I was first introduced to the Collaborated Online International Learning (COIL), I was extremely nervous about interacting with native Spanish speaker since I do not speak Spanish myself. After getting into contact with my COIL partners, all of those concerns faded. Each one was decently fluent in English and even if they were unable to convey a thought in English as they would in Spanish, they were able to talk me through their thought process and we figured it out.
My conversations with each partner differed greatly. Each began with trying to learn a bit about our lives, homes and interests. I was able to relate to each one through various interests such as, sports, music, environment, video games, and travel. I was blown away by just how similar we all were. I felt as though I connected easily and was extremely interested in their goals and passions in life.
Luckily enough, I visited Cali, Colombia and met all of my partners in person. We had great conversations and were actually able to hangout on multiple occasions. I had a lot of preconceived notions about what to expect, but almost all of them were wrong. These men were really just your average college aged students that just wanted to live their lives.
The real and lasting benefit of the COIL experience for me was seeing all of the similarities that deeply outweighed our differences. I was expecting deep culture shock, a divide that would be difficult to bridge, but what I found were three unique people with similar yet diverse life experiences. I was surprised to learn that culture truly is not a dividing factor. Connecting with people throughout the world just takes a conversation and an openness to understanding. I set aside my inhibitions and embraced the challenge of talking and learning with people from a different culture. I was challenged and sometimes I struggled, but ultimately I was enriched through the entire experience. COIL is a true benefit to bridging the gaps of understanding between others and was an invaluable piece to my graduate education.