The Bridge - Going on a cross-cultural via Zoom?

Messiah serves Ecuador via online pilot program

Messiah serves Ecuador via online pilot program

Weeks away from traveling to their three-week cross-cultural trips all over the world, Messiah students were at a loss when COVID-19 restricted global travel in May. Since many of them were seniors who needed to meet the cross-cultural requirement to graduate, they had to regroup.

Enter Robin Lauermann, professor of politics at Messiah, who quickly developed a virtual class called Culture and Civil Society in Ecuador. In addition to lectures and learning activities, the students worked on short-term group service projects with community partners in Quito, the country’s capital.

“That was an innovation for me and an innovation for them,” said Lauermann.

The students worked in groups, helping four organizations. They developed a fundraising campaign to help Casa Mis Sueños, an organization for youth and women at risk, to be able to buy a truck. Others helped an Ecuador chapter of the ministry Open Air Campaigners, creating a website from scratch. A third group worked with Revolution, which helps indigenous populations in extreme poverty, with fundraising and paperwork to become an official nonprofit.

Students exceeded partner expectations with their deliverables, bringing some partners to tears, according to Lauermann.

Morgan Orndorff ’21, a nutrition and dietetics major, worked with The Highlands, a ministry that shares the Gospel with those living in the Andes Mountains, to develop a new website. She originally had planned to go to Greece and Turkey for her cross-cultural.

“At first, I was very disappointed ... I was not going to be able to travel to Turkey and Greece,” she said. “However, I shifted my perspective. My virtual connections with the community of Ecuador helped me to better understand the importance of building a strong community.”

Working via Zoom proved beneficial in many ways. The class, which is usually limited to 12 students, now could accommodate 26. Students also could balance a full-time job in a different time zone while also completing the cross-cultural. This virtual experience also offers a potential model for students who can’t attend a cross-cultural, even in a non-pandemic world. Students also have the option of continuing virtual volunteering long after the class is over.

“I have some students who have reached out and said they still want to volunteer. They realized there’s value in what they do. They don’t have to go somewhere to work with folks,” said Lauermann. “We were able to be the hands and the feet in this truly unexpected way.”

— Anna Seip