Despite being virtual, the School of Extended and International Education continues to serve close to home and thousands of miles away

January 20, 2021
Miyazaki Program on Zoom

Japanese students in the Miyazaki Program learn about Northern California history, geography, culture, industry, and higher education.

Miyazaki Program on Zoom

The Sonoma State American Language Institute operates virtually as of late, but the on-campus Intensive English Program has been in operation for more than 40 years.

Miyazaki Program on Zoom
Miyazaki Program on Zoom

Rohnert Park, CA — Sonoma State University operates a little differently these days. Still, the School of Extended and International Education (SEIE) continues to thrive serving learners locally in the North Bay, as well as those nearly 5,000 miles away.

The Sonoma State American Language Institute, an on-campus Intensive English Program that has been in operation for more than 40 years, successfully pivoted to virtual learning to serve international students wishing to improve their English language skills for academic success. In partnership with Miyazaki International College in Japan, with whom SSU has worked since 1999, learners recently began a 10-week cultural and language program exploring all things Northern California.  

The Miyazaki Program covers Northern California history, geography, culture, industry, higher education, and some U.S. societal issues, such as hunger and civil rights, while also enhancing students’ English language skills and vocabulary.

“Working with the School of Extended and International Education has been amazing for my students in Japan who were not able to come to the USA because of the pandemic,” said MIC faculty member Felix Jimenez. “They were able to learn and discuss American culture and California life, but also politics, human rights issues, and the rich diversity of the American population. In their journals and assignments, I have seen the profound impact that SSU instructors have had on my students as they work to become global citizens in an increasingly fraught world.”

One of the Miyazaki Program highlights is the live Zoom chats between SSU student volunteers and Miyazaki students. One of these student volunteers, Gloria Mejia, said she feels grateful to connect to the outside world as she shelters at home. “The students I have met so far are very excited to become friends beyond the classroom,” she said.

“A study abroad experience, whether you are leaving or coming to the U.S., is about relationships,” said John B. Green, Director of Professional Development and International Programs at SSU. “While we cannot completely recreate this over a computer screen, at least there is a beginning of a connection between people located over 5,000 miles away from each other,” he added.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging workforce needs, SEIE provides access to high-quality education to those regionally who have tackled the challenges of the past year head-on: first responders and health care workers. Seventeen nurses, health care administrators, and social workers attended an 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training course for free as part of the CSU Courses for Causes, a statewide program developed by the California State University's Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE) offering select free courses to support first responders, healthcare workers, working adults, and community members. 

The course was developed at Stanford University to integrate evidence-based meditation techniques, interactive discussions, lectures, and real-world exercises for graduates to relate to themselves and others. Dr. Andy Wallace, SEIE Instructor for the Compassion Cultivation course and professor of Philosophy at Sonoma State, began teaching the course at SSU in 2017.

This time around, Dr. Wallace taught the course entirely online, providing students with opportunities to connect with and support each other during these challenging times. “Research indicates that compassion reduces stress and can be a powerful analgesic to fear and hatred,” said Dr. Wallace. “Thankfully, we all can become more compassionate; like any muscle, the more a person exercises it, the stronger it becomes.”

SSU prides itself in supporting the local North Bay community in times of crisis. Alia Van Hoorn, a Patient Care Supervisor at Memorial Hospice in Santa Rosa, said about her time in the course, “It was an incredible gift. I looked forward to it every week. It increased my resilience during this challenging time and boosted my ability to support my staff. I’m deeply grateful.”

For the Spring 2021 semester, Dr. Wallace will be providing a free drop-in course on mindfulness and compassion. Visit for previous Pop-up Self Care videos and for information on dates and times for upcoming courses this semester. Dr. Wallace will again teach Compassion Cultivation Training in Fall 2021.

For more information about the School of Extended and International Education programs, including the Sonoma State American Language Institute, visit

ABOUT US: Sonoma State is a public university committed to educational access and excellence, with a long-standing tradition of promoting intellectual and personal growth, leadership opportunities, and technological proficiency. We are driven by a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences and guided by core values of sustainability, inclusivity, and integrity. Situated among the rolling hills of Sonoma County, SSU is a living example of Northern California’s diverse natural beauty. We provide high-quality education through innovative programs that leverage the area’s economic, cultural, and natural resources. Connect with and learn more about SSU in the SSU NewsCenter.

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Julia Gonzalez