Virtual cultural immersion in Colombia

In May 2020, students in GERO 499 took a virtual visit to Colombia.

Students in GERO 499 took a virtual visit to Colombia. They received hands-on instruction in how to make arepas — a cross between a tortilla and a pancake that can be found at nearly every meal—and learned the footwork for salsa, mapale, merengue and other popular Latin American dances. These interactive lessons were part of a Maymester course that Zoom-delivered Colombian culture directly to students — and in the case of the cooking class, their parents and younger relatives who joined in to assist.

“It ended up being a really engaging experience, even though we were totally online,” says Margarita Osuna, a USC Leonard Davis School doctoral student and Colombia native. “And I think that made it a lot of fun for all of us.”

Latin America is aging rapidly, says Associate Professor Jennifer Ailshire. She launched the course as a way to help students understand the societal impacts of this accelerated rate, which is twice as fast as the rate of aging in the United States. Moving the class online challenged Ailshire to be more creative with her lesson plans, something she believes can improve all teaching going forward.

“It’s important to activate that spark in students so they connect with the content,” she says. “And I worried I couldn’t re-create that spark if we weren’t in the country.”

If this feedback from USC health and human sciences major Natalia Jun is any indication, Ailshire needn’t have been concerned: “This class revitalized my passion for learning,” Jun says.