Farida Ahmed- Connect Program Reflection Paper (group 136):
Before starting the 4 week connect program, I thought that it was going to be difficult to connect with people from around the world on zoom. As I always thought that meeting people for the first time online is much more awkward than in real life. Surprisingly it was less awkward than I thought it was going to be for the first session especially. Even though, there were quite a few peers who were shy and did not open the camera or try to speak and interact. The ones who did I instantly loved the idea of discussing topics and having an open and safe space to speak about whatever comes to our minds.
Our instructor was extremely friendly and understanding. She always gave us time to speak and explain our thoughts. She took note of everything we said with our names in the chat which was helpful especially when anyone had internet issues and was struggling to keep up. After the first session, the following three became much livelier and more interactive. We started breaking the ice more and there were fewer silent moments. I believe if this program was longer, we would have gotten even more used to one another and more thoughts would have been shared.
What I realized throughout the program is that makes it different from other online communication platforms I use such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and other socials is that to me it was more interactive than these social media platforms. The connect program lets us communicate about topics such as the meaning of identity to each one of us, discovering and sharing traits of ourselves, respect and how to establish it, our different cultures, and how our identities might change from online to offline. Throughout speaking about these topics, we got into depth for each one and the responses were back and forth and instant. However, on other online platforms like social media, the responses are not always as quick and instant. Also, sharing our thoughts on the connect program was much more into depth and identified compared to anonymous responses you could get on social media.
What also differs the connect program from other online platforms is that we had a fixed 2-hour discussion open, once a week. Meaning that it was not as frequent as every day online it made the session more valuable and made us squeeze as many thoughts and information in that period. While other online platforms, it could be at any time making it sometimes less valuable. In addition, I realized after the 4 sessions that I am a very active communicator but I also love listening to people’s feedback and thoughts even if they are negative, I take them easily. As a content producer as I have a public social media account, I enjoy creating content where people can find it useful or relatable. Especially when it is relatable there is more interaction and this made more sense to me as I was happy to answer and volunteer to speak first in the program. I did also not hesitate to ask questions and answer ones too. Although, I did not think I was that type of person before starting the program.
I learned that what could be done to foster constructive communication online and face-to-face is the more you ask questions correlated the more the responses will add up to one another. Also, do not be afraid to express yourself in either situation usually what you are afraid of will not go wrong or happen. It will probably least likely happen. Usually, people respond and take things lightly as long as you are respectful. Respect is a crucial factor to maintain constructive communication and take into consideration how certain topics could need more sensitivity than others and how ethnicities and apparencies should not be pointed out. For instance, in Dr. Zan’s meeting we all talked respectfully and with a calm tone even when we were expressing ourselves about topics, we could get mad about such as stereotypes/ assumptions made about ourselves. We all listened and answered respectfully. So as long as this is stressed upon a safe space will be created therefore, constructive communication will be smooth online and face-to-face.
What was a challenge for me was how I was nervous at the start but then I realized it was not worth it as everyone was friendly and engaging in the program. Also, because the sessions were before iftar in Ramadan it was difficult to speak all the time, or at least that was what I thought. Although I was able to turn the situation around and engage easily and it helped me to push past time and distract me until iftar. What I loved most was that I made a friend out of the connect program. I talk to her after the program has ended and I would have never thought I would make a friend online.
She is my first online friend and I think if someone has asked me before the program do I think I can make online friends I would say no even if so happens it would be fake. But I guess I proved myself wrong and it is possible and it can be genuine. She and I talk about our cultures and respond to one another’s stories. Because we are both Arab that is what made us click and that we both have things in common such as our religion and how fasting was hard during the sessions. We also encouraged each other. She was a bit shy and I helped her to express herself because she wanted to speak about the Palestinian cause but she was afraid and I told her to not be and I think this is an extremely crucial topic we must cover. She ended up speaking about it and many responded positively and I was proud of her.
In conclusion, I believe this experience was much better than I thought it was going to be. It exceeded my expectations and made me want to re-do it. I am happy that this was part of the course even though I was nervous because this was a big part of our grade in the course. I learned that talking out of your comfort zone is what makes you learn and reflect. I learned that listening and respecting others are key if you want to be a good communicator. This program has opened up my brain and was a great encounter.