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Public policy, Central & South America, North America, Government & politics, Munk One, Reach Alliance, Munk School

From Toronto to Mexico: Munk One students in the Global Classroom

What lessons have COVID-19 taught us? For Munk One students who participate in U of T’s Global Classrooms module, the pandemic has meant working cross-culturally and creatively on issues that have local implications and global reach during a time when the world has been turned on its head.  

Led by Professor Joseph Wong, the Munk One Global Classrooms module digitally links students in Toronto to students studying at Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico. Tec de Monterrey is also partnered with the Reach Alliance, a global initiative housed at the Munk School and founded by Wong.

This year’s program took place over three weeks and was structured around critical themes that emerged during the pandemic: What can be learned from the pandemic in terms of how we live, work and address inequality and health system resilience? What obstacles stand in the way of implementing pandemic lessons? Perhaps most importantly, how do we overcome these obstacles and implement pandemic lessons and solutions so that we are better prepared in the future?

The issues, while universal, have been experienced in different ways within different countries and communities. Munk One and Tec de Monterrey students had the opportunity to explore how their governments responded to the challenges of COVID-19, from vaccine allocation and viral transmission to how the pandemic impacted women in the workforce.

Students had the option to express their learnings through a variety of tools, ranging from prepared policy briefs, op-eds, photo and video essays to presentations that pushed them to develop their debate and analytical skills. This, along with the remote collaboration aspect of the module, gives students a taste of exactly what to expect after graduation. 

“The module allows students to think innovatively about problems that are global in magnitude,” says Anupam Chaudhri, Program and Events Coordinator for the Munk One program.

“Students collaborate to find solutions with potential for local impact and develop their ideas into specific, measurable and actionable terms."

For first-year student Lara Devotto Pimenta, working with her Mexican counterparts introduced different perspectives on how to approach issues and consider solutions. “This diversity is a product of the cross-national exchange that the Global Classroom enables — it really enriches classroom discussions and provides an opportunity for reciprocal learning,” she says. With the Global Classrooms experience under her belt, Pimenta plans to pursue a double major in political science and international relations. She said that her participation in the module affirmed that she wants to work for a culturally diverse organization.

In a class reflection paper, social science student Zeynep Selen Akpinar said the cross-cultural project gave her an inspiring sense of being a part of something bigger than oneself. Even though the challenge of preventing another pandemic was daunting, it was also motivating. As an international student from Istanbul, Turkey, Akpinar decided to study abroad to experience different cultures and points of view. Through the Global Classrooms module, she found herself experiencing the “same colours” as her Munk One cohort and Mexican colleagues, but in “different tones.”

The post-pandemic and globalized world will increasingly demand cross-cultural collaboration skills and an ability to navigate virtual environments, so students agree that developing and enhancing these skills was one of the most important professional gains from this module. Jacob Marr, a Rotman Commerce student, says his involvement in the module solidified his interest in pursuing a double major in public policy. He says his business and Munk One classes are both vastly different yet related in some ways: while his Rotman classes emphasize the importance of delivering to investors as a part of management decisions, his experience in the Munk School classrooms lend a fresh perspective to the same problems he finds both classes touch on. The students agree that the Global Classrooms experience helped to expand their perspective.

“This type of education is invaluable. It shapes you to become more aware and culturally sensitive, or in simpler words, a better person.”

Professor Wong is proud of his students. The experience of seeing discussion, analysis, debate and collaboration across borders, he says, was gratifying and the outcomes his students produced, even more so.