This article is the first in a series on the global rotation. You can read a short piece introducing the project here.
The most important function of the global rotation, according to Ben Nelson, is teaching students how to adapt to new situations and “transfer” HCs. In this view, the rotation cities are more of a means to the end of HC transfer rather than objects of learning themselves. Each move presents an opportunity to strengthen skills like recognizing biases or adapting communication styles, rather than these skills being used to develop a stronger understanding of a new culture.
This framing leads to maximizing the number of rotation cities. Each transition ideally strengthens the core, context-independent HCs more than staying in place does. Students won’t necessarily gain in-depth knowledge of the place or form meaningful relationships as easily as they would over a longer stay, but Nelson asserts that was never the point. Instead, the point is to learn how to recognize and adapt to, for example, nuanced communication styles in Seoul, rather than to fully grasp the history and culture behind that style.
Minerva does, of course, strongly encourage learning about each city, and SXP curates opportunities to serve that goal. In addition to these extracurricular events, LBAs also require students to engage with the city through the lens of coursework. While some LBAs more successfully encourage cultural immersion than others, they ensure students conduct at least some location-specific research or activity.
The point is to learn how to recognize and adapt to, for example, nuanced communication styles in Seoul, rather than to fully grasp the history and culture behind that style.
This year Minerva piloted the Intercultural Competency Course (ICC), an eight-semester curriculum geared at preparing students to “engage effectively and appropriately in a variety of cultural contexts,” according to an article included in the course materials. Through readings, co-curricular immersion activities, and LBAs, students should develop a nuanced perspective on their own cultural backgrounds as well as those of the rotation cities.
“Students had some of their stereotypes reinforced, and others completely blown up”, remarked Vicki Chandler, Minerva’s Chief Academic Officer & Dean of Faculty, reflecting on the first iteration of the ICC with the Class of 2023. Chandler also pointed out that Minerva’s unique curriculum not only exposes students to global locations but also gives students the chance to interact with those locations through “the eyes of various cultures” given each cohort’s global diversity.
The Thematic Arc:
As Nelson outlined in his article, cities are also framed in terms of a “thematic arc,” though this frame is more of an extra layer of meaning than a core criteria for choosing locations. This overarching narrative is rarely mentioned in formal student programming, at least as we and our classmates in M’21 and M’20 remember, but it supposedly influences the way individual cities are framed.
Starting in San Francisco, Nelson wrote, grounds the Minerva experience in optimistic start-up culture. In the words of Kayla Cohen (M’19), as cited in Nelson’s article, “in San Francisco the question isn’t if the major institutions of the world will reform but how.”
The next two cities are framed in terms of economic development. In Seoul, students learn about how, in just a few decades, South Korea transformed from one of the world’s poorest countries to an economic powerhouse. Next semester, they can compare the hyper-modern city resulting from this rapid growth to Hyderabad, which has developed at a steadier pace but is rising in global prominence. The two cities are also still shaped by 20th century geopolitical divisions; Seoul is close to the North Korean border, and Hyderabad has a large Muslim community that stayed in India after the partition.
In their third year, students live in two, according to Nelson, “mature” capital cities. He wrote that, “If you were to take a time machine back to the beginning of the 20th century and had selective knowledge of the future, you would be hard pressed to bet against Buenos Aires’s prosperity compared to Berlin’s.” A hundred years ago, Buenos Aires was thriving, while today it faces an economic crisis; Nelson writes that it “struggles to live up to its potential.” Berlin, on the other hand, had an incredibly chaotic 20th century but is now one of the most important cities in Europe.
Finally, students experience the vestiges of two once formidable empires that, as Nelson wrote, “faced collapse and rebirth and are now struggling with their place in that context.” London, once the capital of imperial Britain, is now set to become more isolated than ever after Brexit. Taipei was the refuge of the Kuomintang nationalist party, which Nelson describes as “the successor of dynastic China,” and is now home to a government that, like the UK, is struggling to define its relationship with its mainland neighbor.
It is not guaranteed, however, that students’ experiences on rotation will align with these themes. As we have observed, for example, most students in Hyderabad did not engage with the city’s Muslim community, though this Islamic culture was one of the main reasons Minerva chose it instead of another Indian city, like Bangalore, that has also grown rapidly but is less religiously diverse.
“It’s not like we thought there was Muslim culture in Hyderabad and it somehow vanished,” Nelson told the Quest. “But we have not been as successful at making it accessible and students have not taken the initiative to avail themselves of it. That needs to be worked on.”