A successful online cultural exchange instigated during the pandemic between students from Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Kansas, USA, and the Southern Institute of Technology – Business Division of Te Pūkenga, has seen the collaboration take its next steps, with JCCC Faculty representatives visiting Invercargill earlier this month to develop the exchange partnership.
Due to the border restrictions at that time, JCCC initially contacted SIT in 2020 to see if they could create the virtual exchange between JCCC and SIT students. SIT Communication/ Tourism/Hotel Management/Business tutors, Bronwyn Sadler and Selena Coburn set up the online collaboration; they saw the educational value of building relationships for the purpose of inter-cultural communication experiences. The virtual exchange was successful on every level and they’ve since gone on to run another three exchanges. As intended, it also helped advance the partnership to prepare the way for U.S. students to study at SIT.
SIT hosted two JCCC Faculty members - Professor of English, Beth Gulley, and Professor of Economics, Daniel Owens - from March 10–16, who were here to meet with their NZ counterparts, check out the facilities, and evaluate the suitability of the Invercargill community for the exchange experience.
Prof. Gulley said they hoped to bring a small group of students for a shorter, two-week visit in May 2024. Also, her son had recently graduated from JCCC and was in the throes of applying for a visa to be the “experimental first student” at SIT in February 2024. “Hopefully that will smooth the pathway for other students,” she added.
SIT’s International Marketing Manager for Study Abroad Programmes, Whitney Irwin, said the institutions are developing an appealing 2+2 programme, which provides an engaging overseas experience aligned with academic opportunity. JCCC students can staircase their two-year USA Associate Degree into SIT’s Bachelor Degree programmes after completing an additional two years in New Zealand.
As well as this, SIT arranged tourist excursions for the JCCC delegation, allowing them to see the recreational opportunities their students will have. “Along with our world-class educational and accommodation facilities, overall it provides a very compelling international study package,” Ms Irwin added.
Prof. Owens described the SIT visit as a “wonderful experience”. They were pleased to discover a great deal of overlap between both the programmes and the goals of SIT and JCCC.
“We also teach cosmetology, video game design, auto mechanics, and hospitality, and care very much about keeping costs down to help students acquire an education which will help them start the career of their choice,” he said.
These aspects, combined with New Zealand's student-friendly, work-study visa option would make SIT an attractive destination for JCCC students, he added.
The delegation were particularly impressed SIT’s centre for creative industries, Te Rau o te Huia, noting the integration of the Anglican (former St John’s) church, and the modern graphic design, animation and video game studios.
Prof. Gulley relished the opportunity to see SIT students in class. “My doctorate is in Curriculum Theory, I’m always interested in how schools run ... “ She also noted the level of support SIT offered its students. “It seems very student-centred and student-friendly,” she said.
The professors commented on the ease of travelling in another English-speaking nation; Prof. Owens thought Kiwi phrases were charming and had noticed little differences like lolly, rubbish, and 'sweet as'. They picked up on the local sense of humour, and thought Southlanders’ obsession with the weather was something they had in common – it happens in Kansas as well.
Prof. Gulley described Invercargill as “peaceful and easy to navigate. I felt safe and comfortable. There are enough similarities that it would not be overwhelming to get around here. It’s very walkable and easy for students to access necessities.”
Prof. Owens continued, “The city itself reminded us very much of a mid-sized Kansas town, with an old downtown and a larger community surrounded by agriculture. [The] downtown revitalisation construction is very impressive.”
The group visited Stewart Island, Milford Sound, Queenstown and Wellington. Prof. Owens described Bluff Oysters as “possibly the best oysters I have ever enjoyed, which we got fresh off the boat ... ” The Bluff trip also included Te Rau Aroha Marae, and they were looking forward to introducing their students to this part of Aotearoa when they visit in the fall of 2024. “We’ve returned home very enthusiastic ... we feel we have laid the foundation for increased cooperation between the two institutions,” he concluded.
SIT Executive Director, Daryl Haggerty, agreed, adding “After the border restrictions of the pandemic, being able to reconnect with our international partners and welcome international students and faculty on campus, brings a renewed vibrancy and cultural atmosphere that also flows into the wider community.”