Global House: Connecting Students Across a Transnational, Virtual Divide

How do you foster feelings of belonging through a screen? Can you effectively link nearly 200 online learners scattered across the U.S. and abroad? Is it possible to cultivate community across the digital divide? A new transnational Honors College initiative is meeting the unprecedented challenges of 2020 by proving the answer is a resounding “yes.”

“We knew we were planning for an unusual semester this past summer,” explained Natasha Duncan, associate dean for international education and affairs. “Given the challenges students were facing in obtaining visas, we kicked planning into high gear, hoping to find something truly innovative that would meet the needs of a cohort of new international students, who would be taking their courses entirely online.”

It wasn’t long before that cohort expanded to include returning international students as well, plus new and returning domestic students opting to attend in-person classes amid pandemic concerns. Honors College faculty and staff quickly put an eye toward intentional integration.

Community has always been a central tenant of the Honors College. Consequently, Duncan says the college was determined to help students build and maintain an identify within their honors community despite the distance. She is set to give a presentation about Global House before the Association of Pubic & Land-Grant Universities Council on Honors Education early next month.  

“Our students needed a compass for academic success and well-being, but Global House is about much more than that,” Honors College Dean Rhonda Phillips added. “These students are also craving camaraderie. They needed a way to connect across multiple time zones, states, and countries.”

Housed in the college’s online learning management system—and directed by three Honors College faculty and staff preceptors—Global House is a transnational community of online leaners for the 2020-21 academic year. Its members include first-year and continuing students, both domestic and abroad. They hail from 22 countries, including Bahrain, Belgium, Egypt, Macau, Kenya, Vietnam, Turkey, Mexico, and Portugal. The program includes a peer mentor program, social events, and personal/professional development workshops.

“Global House is actually a spin-off of a pre-pandemic plan to create a living-learning Honors community within a physical campus space,” Duncan explained. “We wanted to enhance community-building between domestic and international students and formulated objectives that align with critically-minded intercultural learning.” 

Based on a recent “temperature check” survey, many students participating in Global House feel stronger bonds with their peers, as well as Honors College faculty and staff. Some students also report reduced feelings of isolation.

The Honors College expects the Global House model to open new pathways for linking students who are engaging in professional development off-campus, such as Study Away or a cooperative program, back to campus. As a borderless, virtual community, Global House could help these scholars retain feelings of connection with Purdue and their Honors community. Furthermore, Duncan believes the virtual experience of Global House will assist the Honors College as it refines plans for a future living-learning community.