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Hilton College Offers Joint Tourism Class with Bethlehem University 2/21/2011

Students on opposite ends of the world have opportunity to learn about cultural diversity

HOUSTON, February 21, 2011 — Through a new class offered at the University of Houston's Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, students on opposite sides of the globe have the chance to study in the same room. 

For the first time, Hilton College is offering a joint tourism class with Bethlehem University's Institute of Hotel Management and Tourism. Lydia Westbrook, director of international and external programs and a tourism/cruise industry lecturer at Hilton College, and Hanna Mousallam, tourism management lecturer at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, co-teach the class via videoconference. Currently, 34 University of Houston students and 22 Bethlehem University students are enrolled. The classes meet separately once a week and by videoconference once a week in the University of Houston's M.D. Anderson Library, and the students are partnered with each other on activities and projects throughout the course.

In each joint class, students have the opportunity to interact face-to-face with their counterparts in another country, bridge cultural differences and learn from each other, Westbrook said. 

"This class is a natural forum for meeting new people and learning about new cultures," she said. "We're increasing our students' global competencies and their network of contacts from around the world … we're building a community." 

The idea for this joint class sprang from a visit to the Holy Land (Israel/Palestine) in summer 2010, when Hilton College Dean John Bowen and assistant vice chancellor for international studies and programs Jerald W. Strickland traveled as guests of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership and the Telos Group. Both universities expressed an interest in creating a joint course that would connect Hilton College's hotel and restaurant management courses with Bethlehem University's programs, and the tourism teleconference class was born. 

The class benefits both universities in numerous ways, Mousallam said. 

"It's a great opportunity for students from both universities to learn about the international tourism industry from different perspectives, to learn about diversity and experience the spirit of international tourism," he said. "The students are very excited." 

The students said they are interested in learning about daily life in another country and making friends from a far-away land. 

"It's surreal because you're actually talking to people on the other side of the world, in a place most of us have never seen," said University of Houston student Annabelle Villela. "Through our partners, we have first-hand insight into another culture. We stay connected through e-mail and Blackboard—the technology has been great for our class."

It's modern technology that makes the whole experience possible, and that's thrilling, the co-lecturers said. 

"I'm very glad we're in the same room, even if it's a virtual room," Westbrook told both classes at the first lecture. 

Topics being covered in the course include attractions, transportation and accommodations in both countries and the political, economic, environmental and social elements of the travel industry, Westbrook said. 

Villela, who is planning to switch her major from business to hotel and restaurant management, said she's received a thorough introduction to the tourism industry so far in the class. 

"I just think of it as traveling, but it's on a much bigger scale than that. Tourism affects so many industries and lifestyles, and there are so many new developments in technology, for example," she said. "It's a much wider industry than I would have thought." 

Bowen said he thought the class was a perfect vehicle to teach tourism. 

"What better way to study tourism than to study it in two parts of the world at the same time?" he said.

Debbie Maurer