Stories of Overcoming

Students build connections with global peers through the power of story exchange


SUMMARY: The Center for Global Engagement and faculty/staff facilitators trained in story exchange methodology led a virtual session with students from JMU and the International Network of Universities in an exercise to build connection and resilience through students' own "Stories of Overcoming."

For students eager to engage in global learning and build their intercultural competencies, the challenges of a global pandemic and the need to refrain from international travel leave them searching for new ways to connect during this time. A recent virtual event, “Story Exchange: Stories of Overcoming” brought together students, faculty, and staff from JMU and the International Network of Universities (INU) to exchange individual stories of resilience and hope. Organized by JMU’s Center for Global Engagement (CGE) and the INU, the session was facilitated by five JMU faculty and staff trained in the Narrative4 Story Exchange methodology, and representing multiple JMU departments and centers. Narrative4 is a global organization that aims to “harness the power of the story exchange to equip and embolden young adults to improve their lives, their communities, and the world.

The March 2 event provided an experience that deepened human connection while guiding participants beyond cognitive engagement and looking at many ‘tiles’ on the Zoom screen. Participants were encouraged to strengthen their empathy “muscle” as they entered the space of “fearless hope” to become part of other people’s lives. To prepare for sharing in a virtual space, participants were led by JMU professor emerita, Kate Trammell, in a warm-up activity during which participants “connected” with their assigned story-sharing partner in a physical way, through movement. “I feel like I’m already connected to my story exchange partner,” said one of the participants after participating with their partner through the warm up activity.

“We are a collection of stories of all the people who entered our life,” said Dr. Vesna Hart, lead facilitator, while highlighting that every story from our life experiences is a valuable story and there is no right or wrong way of sharing the story. Following a time of sharing stories in breakout rooms with a designated peer, each pair then joined a larger group to share their partner’s story with the rest of the participants, in the first person.  “Stories stay, lessons leave,” said one of the group facilitators while encouraging everyone to be “present” today and share their story. 

After the stories were exchanged, participants shared what the experience was like. “I had the chance to step into everyone’s life for a bit,” said a participant from Germany, meanwhile a participant from the UK expressed that while telling their partner’s story they “felt more vulnerable now rather than when I was telling my [own] story.” Another participant from the UK said, “It feels like a lot of responsibility telling someone else’s story because it means so much to them, and it’s hard to replicate it, but you definitely want to convey the same message.” Other participants also expressed that they felt as if they have known each other for a long time, feeling more connected and familiar, even though they had only just met in the session.

“I felt goosebumps while I was hearing my story,” said a participant. All of us had a hard time leaving the session as we developed a sense of hope and resilience, experienced empathy, and expressed our hopes for the other person in their future.

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Published: Friday, March 12, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 27, 2021

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