When we first talked about skyping with students in Colombia as part of the Collaborated Online International Learning (COIL) project, I was a little skeptical. Although I understood what we could gain from talking to people from another country and getting a chance to talk about our lives, I wondered how close we could become just talking on skype a few times. Part of me was anticipating spending some time talking awkwardly about movies, neither of us comfortable enough to talk about real issues.
While we definitely talked about pop culture, my expectations were completely unfounded. The students I talked to were completely open to talking about politics and social issues. With one of the Colombian students, our conversations proceeded as I had expected. Our first conversation was an awkward introduction covering the topics of what we liked to do and then we felt more comfortable discussing harder topics later on. However, with my other partner, the first time we talked, things were flipped. We dove right into talking about societal problems. And while it was a fascinating conversation for both of us and we both were learning a lot, we didn’t really connect on a personal level until towards the end of the conversation – when we bonded over a shared love of superhero movies. When we finished speaking, I was looking forward to hearing more about life in Colombia the next time we spoke, but I also wanted to know her opinion on the new Wolverine movie.
I very much appreciated how honest and open the students I spoke to were. I felt our conversations were a judgement-free zone. They asked me some very basic questions about living in the United States, but I was also able to ask questions that I’m sure betrayed my lack of knowledge about Colombia to them. Speaking with multiple people was also a really positive experience because I was able to hear different perspectives about life in Colombia, instead of listening to only one person and having their views represent Colombia to me.
During our conversations, I had to put aside my preconceived ideas. Since we were speaking just after the Colombian government ratified a major peace treaty with the Farc rebel group, I thought that political issues would be a major concern of the students I was speaking with. Instead, all three students I spoke with were more worried about social issues like homophobia. This experience very much reminded me to not make assumptions about others. It also emphasized the ways Colombia and the United States are similar to me.
Overall, the COIL experience exceeded my expectations. The Colombian students and I really did get a chance to get to know one another. And while I appreciated the opportunity to learn about life in another country, I enjoyed making new friends more.