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Real World Conversations in the Classroom: A Student’s Reflection on COIL

July 8, 2021
Department of Romance Studies
Headshot of Akshatha Bharadwaj

Akshatha Bharadwaj '22

As part of SPAN329, Akshatha Bharadwaj ’22, a statistics and analytics major with a minor in Spanish for the professions, shares her reflections on the Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) component of a course she took during the Spring 2021 semester.

COIL courses involve shared learning between students in a course at UNC-Chapel Hill and peer students at a global partner university. Faculty members at both institutions design collaborative activities for their students, such as completing small group projects, engaging in dialogue drawing on their different societal or disciplinary perspectives, or exchanging scholarly or creative work. 

Carolina students engaged in discussion with students from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). The course was taught by Lorna Avilés, teaching assistant professor of Spanish in the Department of Romance Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, in partnership with Esteban Mayorga, professor within the College of Social Sciences and Humanities in Spring 2021. UNC Global is publishing an excerpt of this student reflection, originally published in the Department of Romance Studies newsletter. 

One of the strongest experiences that has reinforced my decision to become a Spanish minor is my Community and Professional Engagement class (SPAN 329), taught by Professor Lorna Avilés. Not only has it brought to light the struggles of Latinx immigrants in this country, but it also has given me a fantastic opportunity to connect with Ecuadorian university students through a program called Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL).  

My three peer partners and I have focused our conversations mainly on the topics we have focused on in class — discrimination against indigenous populations, corruption in the government and the effect of globalization on Ecuadorian culture. We have learned about these issues through readings and videos. However, by speaking with other students who have personally witnessed discrimination or been affected by a corrupt government, my view of these situations has surpassed simple acknowledgment and become understanding. 

I had this moment of realization after a recent discussion with my Ecuadorian COIL partners about the impact of globalization and urbanization on indigenous communities in Ecuador. One student explained how the Quechua language’s presence in everyday life continues to fade while English slowly exerts more and more influence. The Quechua are an indigenous group whose members live in several South American countries. Big city life and the increased utility of English in job applications have made Quechua less prevalent. Younger generations opt to wear Western clothing over traditional clothing, and they no longer speak their native language. After hearing the emotion in his voice, I was thoroughly convinced. However, his classmate disagreed with him, citing his own experiences with other indigenous adolescents. For him, most young people continue to educate others about their communities, and they take pride in wearing traditional clothing and speaking their native language. Hearing this difference of opinion, I truly understood the value of this opportunity to talk with peers in South America and capture the complexity of how these situations manifest for different people. I better appreciated the importance of applying my classwork to a real-world setting. For me, COIL eliminates the barriers of time and distance to gain access to diverse perspectives around the world. 

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