Four times a stranger in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona

The scholars pose in the First Amendment Forum of the Cronkite School set up for their Welcome Reception


As summer approached in the northern part of the globe, we eagerly prepared to embark on a journey to Arizona State University for the prestigious Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) Scholars program. Upon arrival, most of us experienced a profound sense of disorientation. For me and I guess for a few others upon stepping out of a plane at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, we were immediately struck by the intense heat of the Arizona desert that greeted us, since most of us are accustomed to a tropical climate. However, we adapted quickly since we were advised about it a couple of times beforehand, and because the lodgings and study rooms at Arizona State University are designed to overcome such adverse weather conditions.

Oops! How time flies, we are already halfway through our thirty days’ stay at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. It’s noon Mountain Time here and it’s time for a recess. The recess gives us a chance to relax and get to grab our lunch but more importantly, it gives us space to talk to family and friends. However, it’s either too early or too late back home for most us. At this time, family and friends are comfortable in their pajamas, resting for the day to come and they will not be able to pick up our calls, but we found a way anyway.

The scholars pause in devouring pie at Rock Springs Cafe to look toward the camera
2024 SUSI Scholars family hanging out together at the Rock Springs Pie Box in Old Black Canyon City, Arizona

Culture Shock

The honeymoon is over now, was there any space for anxiety? This group has been amazing, so much so that we defied the stages of culture shock, direct from honeymoon to adaptation and acceptance without experiencing the shock. So far, it has been an experience that not only leaves an indelible imprint, but which has also created long-lasting memories. A group full of energy, enthusiasm and charisma, always willing to grab a tip when a chance is presented to them. Reminiscing on our experience thus far has been a thing to be proud of. From meeting the first day in front of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to touring it, attending the First Friday street fair, capturing the sunset at the Grand Canyon and experiencing the VR world at the Media and Immersive Experience Center. Our stay has been nothing but moments to cherish.

A composite of photos in Cronkite Room 444, with small groups of scholars discussing their research projects
Scholars having interactive sessions about their research projects

An Insight Into Research Projects

Fifteen more days lie ahead of us in our stay in Arizona. Time has cruised at a supersonic speed. Arizona feels like home now, perhaps we might be given some bonus days or a permanent stay visa. However, as the days pass so does the time for working on our research projects. It is time to use the bonds we have created among ourselves to share each other’s insights about our projects. The success of the program will partly be defined by our intellectual effort to write something that can have an impact on the communities around us. As scholars and educators emanating from various parts of the world, we strive to contribute both socially and academically through research so as to make the world a better place for everyone. Under the demanding guidance of Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Research, Dr. Gilpin, this task seems challenging yet attainable.

A composite of two photos of presentations at the Cronkite School
Dr. Jessica Pucci presenting on online education and a scholar’s presentation on how we can utilize immersive media to communicate ideas

Delving into ASU’s Online Education

Some of the research project ideas among us focus on online education, which is a crucial component of the SUSI program. A reasonable part of our lessons this far has concentrated much on how we can utilize modern technologies to impart knowledge to others. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtue Reality (VR) as new ways to tell stories and communicate ideas have been a marvel to learn. These lessons were further followed by an insight on how Arizona State University manages online education.

Online education is a thing which has been gaining popularity in recent years, offering a convenient and flexible way for individuals to further their education and improve their skills. More importantly, the emergence of Covid-19 a couple of years ago alerted us even more to the importance of this concept. An insight into how ASU manages online education has not only helped us appreciate online pedagogical processes, but also to identify resources and provide learners’ support to ensure their success. It was impressive to learn that online education allows education for everyone since it provides classrooms without walls as students are no longer restricted by geographical barriers or to the courses offered at a local university. Students have the freedom to choose from a wide range of programs and institutions, enabling them to tailor their education to their specific needs and interests. Getting to know that the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has quite a number of programs being run online and knowing the assessment criteria and the pedagogical processes was interesting. Being a person who has used online learning and teaching platforms before such as Editch and Moodle, I have had a chance to expand my knowledge in other skills related to online education. As to what the last 15 days in Arizona have to offer, it remains to be seen, but based on my experience so far, I have been four times a stranger in Arizona.