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Brenau signs agreement with Panama government to foster new exchanges with students and faculty
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A delegation from Panama tours the Brenau University campus Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, led by Welcome Center Coordinator Sahara Outler, left. - photo by Scott Rogers

Brenau University opened a new window of international possibilities Monday, Nov. 16, after signing an agreement that would welcome students from Panama for language immersion and a four-year degree.

Anne Skleder, Brenau’s president, met with four people from IFARHU, Panama’s highest student scholarship agency, to solidify the memorandum, which she said is a commitment to explore a “wide variety of partnership opportunities.” 

 During the visit, they maintained strict COVID-19 protocols, including mask-wearing, staying socially distanced and speaking with groups only through a video call.

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Through this new partnership, Skleder said the delegation plans to send cohorts of 15-20 students from Panama to Brenau for one year of intensive English learning and cultural immersion, followed by a four-year degree from any program offered at the university. The start date for this program has not been confirmed yet because of the ongoing pandemic. 

“The way we learn about other cultures is by interacting with people from other cultures,” Skleder said. “We can learn a lot in academic classroom work, but until you actually sit down and talk to somebody about their lived experience, you’re not really learning about their culture. Our campus needs to be a place where they get that experience.”

Skleder said Panama’s government has been investing significantly in creating a bilingual country for both economic and social development. Partnering with Brenau is one of the many ways they’re reaching this goal, she said.

Bernardo Meneses, IFARHU’s director general, said those chosen for the five-year program will come from a pool of the highest-scoring students in the best public schools across Panama. 

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A delegation from Panama tours the Brenau University campus Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, led by Welcome Center Coordinator Sahara Outler. A group is partnering with Brenau to send cohorts of 15-20 students to the university as part of a 20-year reform of their educational system, which focuses on bilingualism as the key to becoming a more competitive economy. - photo by Scott Rogers

“We’re very pleased to be partnering with Brenau University,” he said. “We have been able to learn of the academic offerings, and we’re very excited to be able to provide more academic opportunities for Panamanian students.”

Meneses added that he hopes the Panamanian students “will gain the best possible experience” and “will be able to go back home to better the opportunities for the country.”

Skelder said Brenau’s school of education is also looking for ways to help education faculty in Panama learn how to teach online at a higher level. 

“We’ve been teaching online for 20 years, so the idea is to share that knowledge with them so that they can teach their own students online,” she said. “But also to open up the opportunities that their students can take courses online around the world. The idea is we’d be helping to equip those teachers with that skill, and we’d have the opportunity to partner with schools there.”

Skleder said this agreement could also lead to exchanges — when traveling becomes safe again — between students and faculty at both Brenau and Panama, by visiting one another’s country. 

Brenau has already fostered this type of correspondence with Chinese students and faculty through Anhui Normal University. However, during the pandemic, Skleder said the 70 Chinese students in the program must now attend their classes remotely. 

“I think this will be very good for our community,” Skleder said. “When we have students from Panama, they’re going to see a vibrant town. They’re going to see a town that’s on the move, that’s close to the airport, but has all the wonderful things — the lake, the hiking, the downtown area.”