This article is the second in a series on the global rotation. You can read a short piece introducing the project here, and the first article on the global rotation and education here.

The global rotation is a delicate balance of quality and quantity. We jet-set across seven cities and jam professional development, academics, cultural immersion, and personal growth into each semester. Students are encouraged to choose what they want to prioritize, but what are the constraints on student agency and the logistical concerns of the Minerva model? 

Quality: Engagement with Locals

Barbara Walder, Minerva’s Global Director of Operations, points out that recruiting local staff is crucial for Minerva to facilitate deeper engagement with the rotation cities. “Students miss out on authentic experiences if residents aren’t involved in Minerva’s remote [non-US] locations,” Walder told the Quest. 

Walder added that Minerva needs to take a long-term approach to develop civic partnerships and other opportunities for students. “Finding partners is especially difficult if we begin the process the summer before students arrive in a city,” she said. “We should have a twelve-month lens.” As Minerva becomes more established, Walder hopes that the civic projects will be thoughtfully curated to reflect “greater synergy” between the Coaching & Talent Development and Student Affairs teams. 

Capri LaRocca, Minerva’s Director of Student Experience, told the Quest that curated immersion events, or “signature experiences,” can give students an in-depth understanding of each rotation city. Examples of such events include the Buddhist temple stay in Seoul, a weekend-long volunteering opportunity to build houses in a Buenos Aires slum, and a field trip to a concentration camp near Berlin. “Those experiences lend themselves to getting out of the residence halls and spending more time in a place,” LaRocca said. She emphasized “the intention is to have extended engagement with local organizations and people, not just introducing a concept but really digging into it.” SXP is currently working to develop more of these signature experiences in each city. 

LaRocca also hopes SXP can build partnerships with local colleges and students in each city. She shared the example of a Minerva cohort that hosted a photography workshop with students from the California College of the Arts. “With professionals, it can be hard to break through differences in age,” LaRocca said. “But experiencing things with a local university and their students is another great way to connect.” 

[Signature] experiences lend themselves to getting out of the residence halls and spending more time in a place. The intention is to have extended engagement with local organizations and people, not just introducing a concept but really digging into it.

Capri LaRocca, Minerva’s Director of Student Experience

An “intimate politics” initiative organized by Taiwan’s SXP team is another promising example of engaging with local residents. This year’s Elevation for M’20 overlapped with the January presidential elections in Taiwan, so SXP paired students with host families to watch political rallies. Anna Kim, Minerva’s Seoul City Experience Manager, was one of the organizers of this initiative and celebrated the opportunity for students to learn about the election from local families across the political spectrum. 

Both of these examples aim to create more opportunities to understand the perspective of locals. LaRocca told the Quest that SXP has recently emphasized connecting with local people because, “drawing from conversations with students and staff, I’ve realized that a lot of our programming has been predominantly with other Minervans.” 

Forming relationships with locals can greatly help with adjusting to a new culture. Kim, who had previously traveled to Southeast Asia and the Americas, shared that she was not prepared for the culture shock she experienced when she first visited Hyderabad. When she returned the next year, her connections with locals helped her transition. 

“When I went to India three years ago with the Class of 2020, I realized how tough it was to actually live in a new place for four months,” Kim told the Quest.“Because of the friendships I had with locals, I could understand Indian culture through their stories instead of only seeing India through a tourist’s eyes.”

Quantity: Four vs. Seven Cities:

A longer stay in each location would naturally allow students to create deeper relationships with local people and organizations. With this in mind, the Quest asked staff members for their take on switching to a four-city rotation – a frequently discussed alternative to the current seven-city model. 

Walder commented that four months is not enough to engage meaningfully with our rotation cities, asking “Can you seriously look through the eyes of a resident after four months in Berlin?” Nevertheless, given the current model, Walder emphasized that the onus is on students to be intentional about what they want to take away from each city.

Reed Cooper, Minerva’s Director of Enrollment & Advising, noted that proponents of a four-city model would have to consider: which cities would be included, and why? Choosing only cosmopolitan cities like London and Seoul would drastically raise the cost of education. If one of the chosen cities was Hyderabad, students from Nigeria and Pakistan would miss out on an entire year with their cohort due to difficulties securing Indian visas. Moreover, Reed said that without a partnership in a local university —  which at present only exists in Seoul, Hyderabad, and Taipei — it is difficult to obtain a year-long visa in the rotation cities. 

This individual managed to find one person to seriously date in every city. If the semester is long enough for that, it’s certainly long enough for deeper interaction.

Ben Nelson, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Minerva Schools

On the other hand, Ben Nelson argued that four months is actually quite long. He recalled a Minerva student who once asked him how to have meaningful interactions in the rotation cities over a mere semester. “Date a local” was Nelson’s advice, and the student followed through. “This individual managed to find one person to seriously date in every city. If the semester is long enough for that, it’s certainly long enough for deeper interaction,” remarked Nelson. 

Nelson further argued that there are drawbacks to spending too much time in a single place: Boredom can set in. In his view, the depth of a relationship is not defined by the amount of time spent together, but the quality of engagement and the tasks accomplished.  “When I think about my closest friends as an adult, most of them I see twice or three times a year,” Nelson shared as an example. 

As we have observed in our three years on rotation, however, boredom often falls fairly low on the list of students’ concerns. Students are often more than busy with not just developing meaningful relationships, but also doing so while coping with multiple deadlines for academics, civic projects, and work-study; handling challenges related to travel plans and visa arrangements, issues that disproportionately affect students from lower socio-economic backgrounds; and devoting time to sleeping, exercising, healthy eating, and other aspects of self care. Given this, the need to strike a more sustainable balance between quantity and quality still holds true for many students. 

What’s your take on the four vs. seven cities debate? Have SXP events helped you immerse in the cities and form relationships with locals? If you want to share your thoughts, please reach out to us at [email protected] or [email protected].