UMD: A Globally Connected University

Virtual Exchange Connects Terps of Color and Māori Peers to Talk Global Challenges, Shared Experiences

Virtual Exchange Connects Terps of Color and Māori Peers to Talk Global Challenges, Shared Experiences


Gathered together, surrounded by Māori carvings in a pandemic-free auditorium in New Zealand, students from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in New Zealand recently connected with students of color from the University of Maryland (UMD) via Zoom, bridging the 18-hour time difference to share an engaging and moving conversation around politics, culture and racism in their respective countries.


The event was hosted by the Office of Multi-ethnic Student Education (OMSE) and Education Abroad in the Office of International Affairs (OIA) during International Education Week, a week dedicated to celebrating the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. Students from OMSE’s College Success Scholars (CSS), a program that provides structured personal, academic, and professional support to Black and Latino males at the University of Maryland, connected with Māori students in Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand) for a conversation moderated by Dr. Christopher Lester, Director of OMSE.


This collaboration was the first of its kind for the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Development, AUT,” said Jason King, AUT senior lecturer. “It was a rare opportunity of like-minded, powerful, young people coming together, sharing similar experiences of successes and struggles. Understanding for a person of color and for a person Indigenous to the land what they are confronted with on a daily basis.”


The Māori students, or persons Indigenous to New Zealand, led the scholars through Karakia, an opening prayer in Māori, the first language of New Zealand, and shared more about their culture and history through individual introductions. 


Seeing a native culture being protected and celebrated through various outlets was breathtaking to me,” said Austin Carter, UMD student. “Although I couldn't understand the language being spoken in the songs and prayers, the warmth with which they were delivered made me feel a sense of love and compassion.”


The Māori language and culture has been revitalized in recent years since becoming nearly extinct as a result of colonization and suppression. Despite the revitalization of culture, the Māori people still face racial injustice, including police profiling and higher rates of incarceration, and empathize with the injustices experienced by Black people in the U.S.


Historically, Black-led movements such as Black Lives Matter have impacted Māori advocacy efforts in New Zealand. One AUT student shared, “BLM made New Zealand more willing to open their eyes to the racism that exists here and made people pay attention.” 


Through sharing their respective cultures and struggles, both cohorts recognized the experiences that united them. Abel Kururangi Johnston, an AUT student and T.A., reflected, “Our Whānau (family) here in Aotearoa were particularly struck by the similarities in our struggles against colonizing forces and institutions. This knowledge, through our students’ discussions, has already proven capable in connecting our communities.” 


Johnston further shared, “Our students were inspired by our whānau [extended family in Maryland]. We know our peoples have faced innumerable and insufferable crimes for hundreds of years. But we are still here, and we are still going. And tomorrow looks extremely bright with excellent students in every field looking to make the world a better place for everyone.


Carter confirmed the mutual inspiration felt by UMD students. “Despite the trials and tribulations their people have gone through, the Māori students exuded a drive to cause social changes in regards to race that they see fit for their country,” he said. “It renewed my drive to do the same.”


Students, faculty and staff from both universities worked to ensure that the experience would be impactful and personal, even in the virtual space. 


“At a time when physical mobility is impossible, we continue to design virtual international experiences for our students that are meaningful,” said Dr. Leeanne Dunsmore, director of Education Abroad at UMD. “These exchanges allow us to explore grand challenges in a global context. They also allow us to build relationships among people and nations, strengthening our ability to collaborate as we tackle challenges that transcend borders. Developing an understanding of another person’s lived experience is foundational to our work in international education.To see this happen in a virtual space, through these types of exchanges, is powerful.”  


UMD’s established experience conducting virtual Global Classrooms created a framework and best practice to achieve success in virtual, cross-culture collaboration. The conversation between AUT and UMD underscores the effectiveness of virtual exchange in equipping students with tools and experience that can empower them to make a difference in the world. 


The event also extended the ongoing collaboration between Education Abroad and CSS. Over the past two years, these teams have worked together to hold workshops, offer advising, and conduct a research project aimed at understanding how to best support Black and Latino men in study abroad programs. The findings of that research in many ways served as a catalyst to forge and cultivate the connection to AUT. 


“This is exactly the kind of engagement Education New Zealand is looking to establish in terms of our goal of creating global citizens in New Zealand and developing mutual understanding between underrepresented students in both countries,” said Dubois Jennings, engagement director for Education New Zealand. “These conversations are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be accomplished virtually. We’re excited to see what else can be done in the near future, as well as the distant future once borders reopen, and [we are] hopeful that this is the beginning of a long and meaningful relationship between UMD and AUT."


 OIA and OMSE will continue collaborating with the goal of encouraging diverse students to participate in international programs. The partnership with AUT and Education New Zealand, demonstrates how such programs can connect two communities transnationally to learn more about one another and how their histories and experiences intersect and diverge. Such virtual conversations also enable connections in ways that are accessible across financial, time and mobility constraints.


As King explained, “The collaboration was empowering to watch because our Māori students were given a platform to share their knowledge and experiences to other students of color halfway around the world, only to realize that their experiences of racism and bigotry are not that different at all.”


For more information about diversity efforts in international education at UMD, read “Working Toward Inclusive Partnerships: A Case Study on Supporting Black and Latinx Men to Study Abroad,” co-written by members of UMD’s Education Abroad and OMSE teams and published by Diversity Abroad.