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From the internet to the classroom, we’re bombarded with reasons as to why learning a second language is anywhere from challenging to impossible. You’re old or you’re too young; you’re too close to the language or you’re too far away. But is there scientific evidence for any of these claims? Here are some of the most common myths about second language learning.

The number of places to explore and people to meet throughout the world is greatly greater with more than one language.

Myth: You’re Too Old If you’re reading this, you’re probably too old to be putting random items in your mouth. Use your mouth to expand your vocabulary in a foreign language instead! Photo via Unsplash.

No! While there are benefits to starting to learn earlier, it’s more complicated than that. First, consider that children are expected to know a lot less vocabulary than adults. As a result, there is a bit of an illusion that children learn more quickly than adults. However, according to research, adults and adolescents perform better than children.

The theory behind why it may be easier to learn at a younger age is called the “critical period hypothesis.” This has to do with the brain’s plasticity, or how much the brain can change and grow at an early age. While certain aspects of a language may be easier to learn during this period, such as developing a native accent, research does not say languages are harder to learn later. Not only is learning a second language possible later in life, but multilingualism could also benefit your long-term health. Studies have found that bilingualism reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

tl;dr: Start learning a second language before puberty if you can, but if not, that is not an excuse.

Myth: Americans Can’t Learn Languages Many Americans know more than one language. Though she has lived here for many years, even Lady Liberty comes from a bilingual background. Photo via Unsplash.

Absolutely not. To be clear, 20% of Americans do speak a language other than English at home. But even if you come from a monolingual household, bilingualism is possible, thanks in part to how language education has evolved over the years.

Language learning used to follow the audiolingual method, also known as the “drill and kill” method. Because the military had success with this method during World War II, the approach spread across the country. Now, standards focus not on memorization, but communication. The Association for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) rewrote the world readiness language education standards in 2015 to focus on the 5 Cs: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. This change in standards also spawned innovations in how teachers assess skills, focusing on how a student communicates ideas rather than memorizing conjugations.

So no matter where you’re from, before someone tells you that you can’t learn a second language, remind them that 60% of the world is fluently bilingual in at least two languages. Bilingualism is the norm; monolingualism is the anomaly.

Myth: You Can’t Learn Multiple Languages at Once Languages are like travel: the more the better. Photo via Unsplash.

No. Learning second languages is not a zero-sum game. Actually, because of meta-linguistic transfer, knowing one language can help you learn another. Studies show, especially for certain languages, that one’s knowledge of how sounds and letters interact can transfer across languages.

Even more, it may be preferable for multilingual parents to speak multiple languages at home. Researchers have found that having a parent speak to their child in their native language can be better for linguistic development in multiple languages. In other words, if a parent speaks Japanese fluently, does not speak English very fluently, but wants their child to learn English, the parent should speak Japanese with the child using academic language while the child should seek educational opportunities in English from fluent English speakers. Especially for languages that share similar morphemes and grammatical structures, learning both languages will assist comprehension in both.

Myth: Learning a Language Means Replacing Other Subjects To be honest, trying to understand Einstein’s theories on physics in English doesn’t seem much easier than trying to understand them in German. Photo via Unsplash.

Not necessarily. One language education strategy is to teach another subject in the target language. This strategy, called content-based instruction, helps students make meaning and makes the language less abstract. This strategy is central to immersion-based schools, including dual-language schools, that use language as a vehicle to learn subjects rather than an end-goal in itself.

Myth: You Can Learn Languages On Tape While You Sleep If you’re asleep or dead, don’t bother listening to a language lesson on tape. Photo via Unsplash.

This is just wrong. Beware of products that claim to be based in neuroscience but are actually just “neuromyths.” There have been some recent studies that connect language learning to sleep, the experiments are under specific conditions. One experiment showed subjects that listened to words while sleeping were more likely to recall them than those who heard them awake. However, everyone in the experiment had already learned the words. While you may not be able to learn an entire language in your sleep with headphones, sleep is important for memory consolidation: an important part of learning a language.

Myth: Immersion Is Automatic Like most foreign vehicles, immersion is not automatic. Photo via Unsplash.

No. Just because you are surrounded by a certain language somewhere does not mean you will enjoy all of the benefits of immersion. True language immersion takes work, especially if you socialize with networks that speak your native language, consume all of your media in your native language, or communicate with friends and family frequently in other languages. More importantly, if you are only listening to the language you intend to learn and never have meaningful conversations, it will be difficult to improve. Instead, intentionally create opportunities for immersion: live with a host family, work or intern in the language, and seek out friends who are willing to practice with you.

Not a myth: You should go abroad

While immersion isn’t as easy as showing up somewhere, immersing yourself in a language and culture is extremely valuable. Traveling is essential not just for your language skills, but to better understand the culture and context in which that language is spoken.

Take a look at Cultural Vistas’ opportunities outside the United States and inside the United States to have an international exchange experience abroad. 

The post 6 Myths About Learning a Second Language appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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We’ve all heard the American truisms before. The place is a “land of opportunity” for a “nation of immigrants” constituting a “melting pot” where anyone can experience “the American dream.” Even the currency contains statements about unity in Latin!

But as a German taking part in the 35th Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals program, I frequently find myself feeling very fortunate at the opportunities I have in the U.S. which the regular inhabitants of this country ironically do not, as is the case in the small town of Andalusia, Alabama—where I am staying with my 67 year-old retired host Charlotte.

Living in Alabama means driving. Having a car is essential where I live in Andalusia.

The same outsider status which allows me to get a feeling for the “deep red” politics of Alabama with impunity is what previously allowed me to bond with my Mexican host family in Minnesota and what enabled me to apply for an internship in Congress earlier this year through CBYX.

And the more time I spend in the U.S., the more aware I am of this privilege and the more eager I am to share my unique perspective.

From Living with Minnesotan Mexicans to Living with an Alabamian Baptist

My first trip to the United States was during an 11th grade student exchange between my high school and its counterpart in Shakopee, Minnesota, where I lived with a low-income family of Hispanic descent. During that time, words cannot describe the amount of respect that I developed for my hard-working host parents—who would do anything they could to enable their two daughters to attend college and attain a better life than they had.

Fast forward to several years later, where I am a regular at a Sunday Baptist service in Andalusia, Alabama. I attend this weekly Church service gladly out of respect for my religious 67-year old host Charlotte, who opened her home to me before she ever even got the chance to meet me.

Though these and other situations I have encountered are typical in the U.S., I haven’t actually met any Americans who have shared similarly diverse experiences.

In Alabama, I have come to realize that few people have opportunities to travel beyond a neighboring state. Many students who are my age seem to have already found their places in society and are preparing themselves for marriage and finding jobs, scholarships, or other ways to help chip away at their student debts. My hardest decision is choosing which German almost-free university to study at, or deciding whether or not to study abroad. For my classmates, only the closest two or three universities are even up for consideration—if at all. As for studying abroad, I certainly never hear anyone discussing taking part in experiences comparable to CBYX.

Participants of the CBYX program attend classes at local colleges and universities. As part of my experience in Andalusia, I attended classes at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College.

I get along better with many of the older Americans I encounter here, thanks in large part to Charlotte—who has integrated me into a weekly card game with some of her sweet older lady friends. Some of these ladies even know that I volunteer for the Covington County Democratic Party, but it is easy for them to overlook this uncomfortable fact with a bewildered smile thanks to my “exotic” status. I admit that it is difficult to imagine a local with views like mine being welcome at the same card game.

Generally, I rarely witness in-depth discussions of a political nature, which is not the same as saying that politics are never mentioned indirectly.

The many religious radio stations often express agitation against Muslim countries and homosexuals. Even during the vibrant, life-affirming, and music-intensive Church services that I attend, the perception of being the last bastion on Earth against the brutal outside world is promoted.

I have embraced attending weekly Church services with my host in Andalusia. It’s also hard to avoid occasionally tuning into religious radio stations while driving—even if by accident.

Though people pray for the government and President to find the right way, one of the reasons why the Second Amendment is held in such high regard is that, if necessary, it is seen as a way of defending oneself against a government that has acted too aggressively in addition to helping to defend against intruders in remote locations where it is difficult for police to reach. Trump is seen as a welcome phenomenon; the Republican Party—without an alternative.

But despite the fear of government, it still seems far removed from the day-to-day concerns of residents who suffer from a lack of medical assistance, poverty, and drug problems, all of which are frequently blamed on the liberal aspirations of the world.

Even I have to admit that Washington, DC is a long way from Andalusia. I know because I have made the trip.

Gaining a National Perspective on Local Constituencies from Capitol Hill

After arriving in Alabama last year, I was one of five German students selected from our cohort of 75 CBYX participants to complete a six-week Congressional internship and gain direct exposure to American politics in Congress before returning to my host city.

I completed this portion of my exchange experience in Washington, DC in February where I worked in the office of Congressman José Serrano, Democratic representative for New York’s 15th district, currently in his 29th year of serving in Congress.

Congressman Serrano presents me with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.

My life here in Alabama could not be more different from the six weeks I spent in Washington, where I stayed with Cultural Vistas CEO Jennifer Clinton, her husband Federico, and their son Oliver.

Before my return to Alabama, my host in Washington held a farewell reception for the five CBYX Congressional interns at her home in the northwest suburbs of Washington, DC.

The many public hearings and briefings I attended as an intern on Capitol Hill were incredibly enriching and I enjoyed recognizing familiar public figures in person. Far from being dismissed for being exotic, one of my first experiences at Congressman Serrano’s office was meeting a senior staffer who took part in an American-German exchange for government employees last summer. We would often speak at length about cultural differences and current political events, and he even took me to some off-record events that I wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise.

Running into famous Capitol Hill reporters never gets old, even when you work there! Here I am with CNN’s Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju.

But even though I was able to meet more inspiring people with similar views in Washington than in Alabama, I could not help but notice the same kind of prejudice in reverse. There, it was simply the Democrat-dominated capital residents who thumbed their noses at Republicans. Debates were at a higher level intellectually, but the underlying approach toward the other side was the same.

Based on my experiences here in Alabama, I know that it is not helpful to condemn the other side in advance. In my opinion, the hardened hearts of many Americans throughout the U.S. have lowered the level of discourse and increased mutual accusations coming from both sides. Those with divergent opinions or party affiliations are regularly ignored in Alabama as well as Washington, without any discussion about the conclusions that lead others to feel that way.

E pluribus unum: out of many, one

Most Americans will recognize the Latin phrase E pluribus unum from having handled U.S. currency their whole lives. Unfortunately, most Americans will only ever experience the “one” referenced in their country’s motto, without ever having the opportunity to witness the “many” other sides of the country they all share.

Americans need only look on the flip side of their coins to see the phrase E pluribus unum. To actually understand what it means, they need to also experience the flip side of their own country.

This is the main reason why I am so appreciative of the opportunity to explore the U.S. in the way I am through CBYX. By spending time in Minnesota, Alabama, and the nation’s capital, I have been able to experience some of the many sides of the country that elude most Americans.

In Alabama, the side of the country I continue to see is one where the helpfulness and friendliness of local residents knows no bounds, and where people are satisfied with a slower pace of life. It is a side that many other Americans would benefit from seeing.

Of course, the problem is that Americans from divergent backgrounds rarely have the opportunity to meet and try to understand each other’s perspectives. It is too bad that they will never have an exchange experience like mine.

The post Experiencing the America Which Eludes Most Americans Through CBYX appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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History is filled with the stories of men who had enough power to dare call themselves “Great” and tyrants who were so proud of the fear they spread that they adopted monikers like “the Terrible.”

But the leaders of the future are unlike the leaders of the past. And thanks to a week I recently spent with the participants of the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, which has the Japanese word for “friendship” in its name, I am confident that we can look forward to a far friendlier future.

The word tomodachi suits the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program perfectly. Here I am (center) with some of the new tomodachi I met during the U.S. study tour.

The prestigious TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program (TMWLP) was run in partnership with U.S. Embassy Tokyo, the U.S. Japan Council, and MetLife. The program pairs highly-motivated Japanese female university students with their mid-career counterparts to network and exchange knowledge focused on the program’s five core competencies of leadership: global perspective, collaboration, resilience, self-awareness, and paying it forward.

I met the 2019 program participants during an eight-day study tour to Washington, DC and New York City administered by Cultural Vistas for the sixth-consecutive year.

Fostering a Global Perspective

For many of the young women I met, this trip was their first time in the U.S.—and for some, it was the first time they had ever left Japan at all.

But that was before. Not only do all TMWLP participants complete their programs with the same international experience in the U.S., they also participate in activities designed to foster a global perspective—which is different than merely traveling to a foreign place.

Program participants were in the capital for The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to Washington, DC.

Simply witnessing what was possible as a Japanese woman abroad made at least one TMWLP participant interested in opportunities to intern and work abroad herself. This participant confided to me that she had never before thought of working outside of Japan until she heard, with her own ears, Japanese women talking about their own successful international careers during one of the program activities.

In this evermore connected world, it is becoming more important than ever for these future leaders to be open to opportunities in the global workplace.


The culmination of the U.S. tour consisted of group presentations to be delivered on the final full day of the trip at MetLife offices in New York by groups of five participants. Many of the participants had never met previously, making collaboration a dominant theme throughout the week as the young women learned to work together in a very short amount of time.

The culmination of the participants’ study tour in the U.S. was at MetLife headquarters in New York City.

A different, more lighthearted, program activity focusing on collaboration involved a session where participants were asked to build paper airplanes. Each group had to create a story about a paper airplane and present that story to the group.

The young women showed their ingenuity, ability to work together, and creativity through these short stories. The lessons the participants learned through these exercises carried over during their final presentations, which were delivered with a focus on personal connections and encouraging each presenter to shine in their own way.

In addition to final group presentations, TMWLP participants also had many opportunities to present individually throughout their programming. Resilience

Participants focused on building resilience during a resilience workshop led by Nicola Shergold of the Wellbeing Project.

During the workshop, one participant shared a moving story of how, during her first year at university, she was so committed to taking on every opportunity to prove her dedication as a student, that she pushed herself to the point where she was experiencing severe health problems. These health issues negatively impacted her ability to complete her schoolwork. She realized that in order to succeed, she had to take care of her whole self, including her physical well-being.

She now makes sure she gets enough sleep every night, and that she takes breaks to focus on her wellbeing as often as she needs to, and has seen improvements in her performance at school since making these adjustments.


This participant’s story is not only one of resilience, but of self-awareness. Many of the other young women demonstrated their understanding of the value of self-awareness during a reflection session, where papers with the core competencies were placed around a room, and each person had to choose which resonated most.

Those who chose self-awareness explained that self-awareness serves as a foundation to the other core competencies. One must understand oneself to understand the world she inhabits; one must be self-aware to be grounded enough to work through tough times; one must be aware oneself in order to work effectively with others; and finally, one must understand who she is in order to share her best self to better the lives of others when she pays it forward.

Paying it Forward

The prompt for the final group presentations was, “What will the world be like in 10 years? Describe what kind of leader you want to be in the future world and why.”

While answers varied, the idea of paying it forward through leadership was clear in every group presentation. The professionals who volunteered their time to work with these young women throughout their 10-month program or during the U.S. study tour also served as a powerful example of what paying it forward means.

As beneficiaries of this shared knowledge, the participants have been equipped with the tools to develop into leaders, and are prepared to pay it forward to other young women who are just getting started.

The #FutureIsFemale

During a workshop in Washington, DC, Communications Consultant Barbara Greene told a brave yet nervous volunteer who had offered to share with the group “don’t worry, everyone here wants you to succeed!”

Barbara knows that when lift each other up, when we see each other as friends—we all succeed, as individuals, as women, and as a whole society. The networks created during TMWLP are far-reaching and rich, and we can’t wait to see where these young women take us as they develop into the future leaders of this globally connected world.

Through important lessons on leadership which are true to its name, the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program teaches that though many may strive to be leaders, there can be no effective leadership without friendship.

Since we know that the #FutureIsFemale, let’s hope that this message spreads far and wide as we await the friendly leaders of our future.

Please note that the reference to TOMODACHI in the title of this post is a reference to the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program.

The post Looking Forward to a Friendly Future Thanks to TOMODACHI appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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Arriving by plane rather than vaka and wearing mostly non-traditional attire—45 young delegates from 20 Pacific countries and territories celebrated their common heritage as they looked toward a promising future during a historic 2019 Young Pacific Leaders Conference (#YPL19) in Suva, Fiji.

It took some delegates 30+ hours to arrive at the conference in Suva, but only a few short days to establish networks and relationships for life.

The YPL19 conference, organized by the U.S. Embassy New Zealand and implemented in partnership with Cultural Vistas, took place March 6–9, 2019 and marked the sixth year of successful collaboration between the U.S. Department of State and emerging leaders in the Pacific.

The 45 conference delegates honored their ancestors during a program in which they outlined how to fight together in the modern Pacific region using the weapons of civic leadership; environmental and resource management; education; and economic and social development.

Though conference delegates arrived in Fiji by plane, they were also able to experience vaka sailing on the famed Uto Ni Yalo. Celebrating Tradition Gives Strength to Pacific Voices

For those in the Pacific, deference to certain ancient customs and traditions is as important as demonstrating 21st century knowledge and expertise. A gathering of Young Pacific Leaders in Fiji would have been incomplete without honoring the Pacific tradition of telling stories through song and dance.

Another important way in which conference delegates were able to share some of their heritage was through time designated to wear traditional attire. Pictured here are some of the delegates during a “Pacific Night” reception.

In an air-conditioned banquet hall amid flashing cameras and blinking red lights, a singing group wearing traditional outfits officially launched the conference with a welcome ceremony which included offering a beverage made out of ground Kava root to honored guests.

Scenes from #YPL19: A Conference of Contrasts - YouTube

Delegates were also introduced to Igelese Ete, the man who delivered the soundtrack of the Pacific to the world (or, at least—Hollywood).

As the leader of the Pasifika Voices choir at the University of the South Pacific, Igalese once self-funded a trip to California to tell Disney studios off for not using an authentic Pacific choir in its movies. Once Disney’s music team came to Fiji to hear Igelese’s powerful choir for themselves, they had no choice but to change their minds and use Pasifika Voices.

The Oceania Dance Theatre at the University of the South Pacific in Suva put on quite the show for our conference delegates. Read more about their modern approach to utilizing creative expression to honor Pacific dancing traditions.

Seeing the powerful performances of Pasifika Voices and the Oceania Dance Theatre leaves little room to wonder why people from the Pacific take such pride in their traditions of song and dance. And the global success of Igelese’s Pasifika Voices choir also provides a powerful statement on the potential of marrying the traditions of the past with the modern-day. Pasifika Voices consists of singers from a number of different Pacific countries and has had resounding success performing modern interpretations of songs from throughout the Pacific.

For their own part, conference delegates regularly elevated conference programming by giving public orations in their native languages (including sign languages) or public statements honoring conference speakers.

YPL19 strived to be an accessible conference for all. Above, conference delegate Krishneer Sen demonstrates some simple phrases in sign language.

By inserting a certain degree of tradition, custom, and performance common across the Pacific into regularly scheduled conference programming, YPL19 fostered a sense of a unified Pacific identity—allowing the delegates to speak with a unified Pacific voice.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) W. Patrick Murphy (third from left seated in front) with conference delegates during a unifying Pacific Night reception celebrating island customs and culture. The Inaugural Mock Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting

The greatest performance of YPL19 was also a historic one.

The delegates of #YPL19 take part in an inaugural Mock Pacific Island Forum at the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat in Suva.

The delegates of the 2019 Young Pacific Leaders Conference made history when they became the first group to ever take part in a Mock Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (MPIFLM) at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Inspired by other mock forums like Model United Nations and Model ASEAN Summits, the inaugural MPIFLM event allowed delegates to assume the role of Pacific world leaders as they role-played what it would be like to take part in a regular session of the Forum.

Easy to mistake for an actual world leader, conference delegate Melissa Menefise Ako from Tuvalu played the role of Chair at the Mock Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting. She is pictured here sitting next to Alifeleti Soakai—the Secretariat’s Political Issues Adviser.

During the exercise, Secretariat staff noted how similar the mock session was to an actual meeting of country representatives.

Secretariat Officer Angela Thomas said that she was “very impressed” with conference delegates by “how well they engaged and knew their country positions, obviously having researched the issues,” whereas Secretariat Officer Penisoni Naupoto noted that “the level of the discussions at this meeting was not very different from the country leaders when they meet.”

As if assuming the role of a world leader wasn’t enough, some conference delegates were asked to assume the role of a country that wasn’t their own. This was the case with New Caledonia—which did not have a delegate at the conference.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was easy for #YoungPacificLeaders to demonstrate leadership qualities, even on such a grand stage. Indeed, throughout the rest of the conference, the delegates further demonstrated that they were already the regular leaders of a different forum.

A Forum for the Future of Young Pacific Leaders

In his remarks to the Young Pacific Leaders on Pacific Night at YPL19, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) W. Patrick Murphy said that he was glad that the Young Pacific Leaders program was no longer known as the Future Leaders of the Pacific program.

“We want to acknowledge that your impact is not reserved for some time in the future. You are already making a difference.”

PDAS Murphy delivers his opening speech at the “Pacific Night” reception of YPL19.

Though it would have been impolite for PDAS Murphy to acknowledge, the Young Pacific Leaders also won’t be young forever. But throughout YPL19, the delegates lived up to the lifelong diplomat’s remarks by making it clear that they do not need to be groomed into becoming leaders anymore—they have already proven themselves to be Pacific leaders regardless of age.

Special thanks to Dwain Ah Tong Qalovaki (second from left) for giving the YPL19 keynote address and joining conference delegates while sailing on the famed Vaka Uto Ni Yalo.

In addition to celebrating Pacific customs in Fiji and role-playing what it would be like to be a modern Pacific political leader at the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, the delegates of YPL19 spent most of their time in Fiji tackling issues related to one of the four YPL pillars in which they specialize. Importantly, the delegates did not approach these issues as students—but as leaders utilizing existing expertise to find the best path forward.

Program alumna Carinya Feaunati shares a personal success story with fellow delegates and advises them on how they can secure funding for projects through the YPL Small Grants Program. Several alumni of past YPL programs attended the conference in Fiji and served as mentors for the next cohort of Young Pacific Leaders.

Though the conference which brought them together is over, the delegates remain connected as Young Pacific Leaders. Since returning from Fiji, they have begun participating in post-program activities as they prepare for YPL LEADS (Lead, Engage, Advocate, Drive Change, and Serve)—a weeklong event in the first week of May which will bring together YPL19 alumni and other members of the wider YPL alumni network to collaborate on a service activity and social media campaign.

And in addition to each other, the Young Pacific Leaders have another proud partner to help them in their future efforts.

“Vinaka vaka levu and thank you to the leaders of Fiji and the people of your country for hosting us,” PDAS @WPatrickMurphy remarks at the Young Pacific Leaders Conference Pacific Night Opening Reception in Suva, #Fiji.

Read more: https://t.co/O0E4zyiaV1 pic.twitter.com/NmVAuOUJhu

— US Embassy Suva (@USEmbassySuva) March 7, 2019

In his opening remarks at the Pacific Night reception, PDAS Murphy noted that the United States “has a long history of partnering with the Pacific Islands to address local and global challenges” and mentioned a number of specific programs open to Young Pacific Leaders.

“Through our Department of State, we offer a number of educational exchange programs such as Fulbright scholarships, International Visitor Leadership Programs, the U.S. South Pacific Scholarship Program and more to enable driven individuals like yourselves to spend some time in the United States, to study at great institutions to take knowledge and skills back to your home islands, and also to share your vision for a brighter future with us in the U.S.”

Teina Mackenzie, President of the Te Ipukarea Society gives the YPL19 capstone speech on “Staying Engaged as a Young Pacific Leader.”

As they continue to engage their expanding networks across the Pacific and increase their knowledge of the four YPL pillars, delegates will also have the opportunity to put their ideas into action through the YPL Small Grants Program.

The descendants of the Pacific no longer need to battle each other or the waves of the world’s largest ocean. Their greatest source of strength today comes from fighting for the Pacific together. And thanks to Young Pacific Leaders, they are now connected through a forum of their own.

See more highlights and interviews with participants of YPL19 below.

Highlights from the 2019 Young Pacific Leaders Conference in Suva, Fiji - YouTube

The post Young Pacific Leaders Celebrate Heritage while Making History in Fiji appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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Members of Cultural Vistas’ International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) staff joined hundreds of other exchange professionals at the annual Global Ties U.S. National Meeting in January as they explored this year’s event theme: The Exchange Effect: Growing Impact at Home and Abroad.

Beginning with a discussion on the prospect of future exchange programs being literally out of this world, the event covered a broad array of topics which ultimately highlighted how the effects of exchanges are not limited by time or place. Below are some of our favorite highlights from the event.

This year’s Global Ties U.S. National Meeting took place in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: A.E. Landes Photography Beyond Global: International Exchange Meets Interstellar Diplomacy

The exchange of information in space was a much-anticipated topic which kicked off the main portion of the national meeting with a keystone speech by Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., a former NASA Administrator and Major General of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Former NASA administrator and Major General of the U.S. Marine Corps Charles Frank Bolden, Jr. gave the keynote speech on the exchange of information in space. Photo credit: A.E. Landes Photography

Bolden spoke specifically about how the nature of exchanging information in space, or in the science field in general, can help lay a path toward international cooperation between countries which would otherwise find it difficult to see eye-to-eye.

During the presentation, Bolden described how being able to side-step the geopolitical realities of Earth has enabled him and four other U.S. scientists and engineers to successfully engage with foreign citizens and governments to develop partnerships and improve collaboration through the U.S. Science Envoy Program of the U.S. Department of State.

Bolden’s speech not only highlighted the limitations of the adjective “international” in the context of exchange programs—his commentary on the ability of space and science to break down political barriers also provided insights for exchange programmers trying to do the same on our home planet.

Cross-Border Exchanges Build Walls around Disinformation

Another highly topical session on “Disinformation and the Media” highlighted the potential of international exchange programs to combat the spread of false facts and mistruths in journalism.

During this session, Jennifer Gregg, Senior Program Officer at FHI 360, shared some practical programming tips for those working on combating disinformation projects. Key takeaways included the importance of identifying what is editorial versus factual, the strong impression left on foreign participants by American approaches to fact-checking, as well as the critical importance of emphasizing citizen digital literacy.

Particularly relevant to this last point were the words of speaker Rick Ruth, Senior Advisor for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State—who said that the rise in disinformation was “not driven by technology, but driven by the use of technology.”

These words provided reassurance to exchange professionals working on projects on combating disinformation. The capabilities of exchange programs to improve digital literacy and influence approaches to fact-checking are much greater than their capabilities to influence the nature of technology or journalism itself.

Young American and German journalists gather for a photo outside of the The New York Times offices while in New York City during Cultural Vistas’ new Journalism in the Era of Disinformation Fellowship. The Timelessness of the Exchange Effect

At the core of most exchange programs is the belief that the transition from program participant to program alumni is a significant one that can help an individual reach new heights.

A panel on “Recruiting from Relevant Alumni Exchange Networks” explored the topic of alumni networks and provided tips for how exchange professionals can seek to utilize program alumni to maximize the exchange effect of new programs.

Put another way, the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting brought the idea of the “exchange effect” full circle. Not only did the event address future prospects of interplanetary exchange, present-day issues surrounding disinformation in the media, and past programming successes—it also identified how the exchange effect can influence both the present and future by utilizing its successful past.

Attendees also heard from people like Pardeep Singh Kaleka (right), who lost his father in a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple, and Arno Michealis (left), a former white supremacist who helped start the gang that produced the shooter. Recognized for their work at the grassroots level, Pardeep and Arno’s story exemplifies the idea that forgiveness and open-mindedness can lead to cooperation in the most unlikely of places. Photo credit: A.E. Landes Photography

Attendees heard from people like Biblap Ketan Paul, a 2004 IVLP alumnus who now serves as Director of a social enterprise working to eradicate poverty through clean water technologies. Thanks to an exchange of knowledge on open source technology, Biblap is able to work on sharing his innovative knowledge outside of his home in India, beginning with several countries in South Asia and Africa. Another keynote speaker, Mine Atli, a 2017 IVLP participant, was the recipient of the 2019 IVLP Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change for her work to combat domestic violence against women in Cyprus.

What all these stories shared, and what characterizes many other exchange successes, is the ability and potential of program beneficiaries to further exchange their knowledge with others. With every subsequent exchange, more knowledge and understanding lies in the hands of more people—regardless of where this knowledge originated.  Just as Biblap and Mine’s exchange experiences helped increase their influence abroad, sharing this knowledge with others helps enable more people to follow their lead.

Indeed, the context of the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting is an exchange of its own. And with so many significant discussions and heartwarming stories having taken place, we have no doubt that the shared knowledge from the event will continue to yield timeless benefits, however big or small—at home in our world, or maybe even beyond.

The post In This World and Beyond, The #ExchangeEffect is Timeless appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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Learning a language can be fun, but also intimidating. Especially talking to people. Here are some tips for how to take that next step from an app to real-life.

1. Find a language group

The best, first step you can take toward learning a language is to find a community to learn with. Joining a language group will hold you accountable to the friends you make to continue attending events and practicing. So before you do anything, find a group, RSVP, and put it in your calendar, even if it’s a long ways away. If you’re in the Washington, DC area, check out Conversational DC, which holds events in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese.

2. Memorize key vocabulary about yourself via Giphy

Now that you have an event to attend, start to prepare. A simple way to get ready for a language immersion event is to memorize key vocabulary. First, write down some questions you think you may ask or answer, such as:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. How did you learn this language?
  3. What do you do in your free time?
  4. What was your last vacation?

Then, look up vocabulary for your answers, especially if there are technical or obscure words you need to know.

When you are searching for vocabulary and sentences on Google translate, forums, or online dictionaries, you are bound to make mistakes. Treat your experience at the language event as a chance to refine your responses.

3. Meet up with a language partner via Giphy

While group language events can be helpful and fun, they often do not meet as frequently as you need them to. Consider finding a language partner at the language group to meet in between events.

When you meet with your language partner, find a place that’s quieter or has some privacy, like a park or table in the corner of a restaurant. It will be easier to hear one another and you will be less nervous about others overhearing your practice session. Come prepared with a few topics that you can discuss. Most of all, hold each other accountable to only speak the target language for at least 30 minutes.

4. Accept mistakes via Giphy

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” Learning a language is hard, but you won’t get better without practice. Accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process. That discomfort you feel: that means you’re learning!

5. While traveling, look for chances to embarrass yourself via Giphy

Speaking of making mistakes, use travel as a chance to make even more mistakes, also known as a chance to learn! While it can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, try using every interaction with a local to speak the target language. Don’t feel bad if they switch to your native language–they are likely just trying to help. If you feel it’s appropriate, you can ask them, “can we speak in ____?” Keep in mind, while you’re traveling, it isn’t the job of the locals to teach you their language. Maintain respect for the community’s language and culture while looking for people that want to help you.

6. Find a language group abroad via Giphy

The same way that you found a language group at home, consider finding one abroad. Beyond major search engines, consider contacting a local university’s language department and see if there are groups they recommend to their students.

7. Book a tour and make them speak to you in the target language via Giphy

Even if you have found a language group event to attend, consider booking a tour in the target language while abroad. Travel sites will list which tours are available in which languages. By taking a tour in another language, you will be practicing your language skills while learning about the culture connected to that language.

8. If you’re overwhelmed, take a break via Giphy

Whether you’re practicing at an event, with a language partner, or on your tour, don’t be afraid to take breaks if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Rather than switching to your native language, go to the restroom, step outside, or refill your drink to take a breath. Learning a language can be exhausting, but if you keep it up, it will all be worth it.

Are you looking for a chance to speak a language abroad? Explore our opportunities to intern or work abroad in the United States or outside the United States.

The post How to Start Speaking Another Language appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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In Zaporizhia, Ukraine, Valeria Vershynina is standing in front of a gathered crowd and motioning to an oversized board game spread out in front of them, “You roll the dice and move your piece along the board,” she instructs.

The seemingly simple game Valeria is explaining how to play is IDP Adventure—a public awareness tool that lets players roleplay the devastatingly difficult situation of an internally displaced person (IDP) in Ukraine. Valeria and her organization, Stabilization Support Services, designed the game as a way to bring the challenges faced by IDPs to the attention of policymakers and the general public.

Valeria Vershynina and her organization, Stabilization Support Services, designed the oversized board game IDP Adventure to raise awareness about the plight of IDPs in Ukraine.

“The game is our response to government officials ignoring the problem of discrimination of displaced people,” Valeria says. “We introduce players to what it is like to lose their home and their civil rights. We tell a story. This creates the opportunity for a dialogue on the experiences of an IDP in Ukraine and their chances for integration. The main message of this game is that discrimination unfortunately results in part from state policies, which can deprive people of an opportunity to integrate.”

Valeria, who herself has been displaced due to the conflict in war-torn eastern Ukraine, is hosting this meeting after returning from a weeklong Cultural Vistas study tour in Germany, which focused on the integration of IDPs in their new receiving communities.

The study tour brought thirteen integration practitioners from various Ukrainian cities together in Berlin to meet with representatives from German civil society organizations, refugee entrepreneurship programs, volunteer initiatives, and high-level officials from the Office of the Federal Commissioner for Integration in the German Chancellery. The goal of the tour was to foster discussions among integration practitioners about best practices for integrating newcomers and strengthening the capacity of civil society in two seemingly different contexts—Ukraine and Germany.

Valeria (fourth from right) and other IDP integration practitioners from the Cultural Vistas study tour to Germany pose in front of the Reichstag Building in Berlin.

Can the experience of someone who received asylum protection in Germany compare to that of an IDP in Ukraine? In many cases, the answer is unfortunately yes. Discrimination and restrictions on services in areas like housing, legal aid, and healthcare are just a few of the examples that the Ukrainian participants discussed with their German counterparts. The other shared challenge is ensuring that newcomers are included in the decisions made about their future.

“Since I took part in the Cultural Vistas program,” says Valeria, “I have been constantly thinking about the balance between integration and assimilation.”

The issues of equity and self-determination by newcomers have been at the forefront of Germany’s integration challenges since the large-scale influx of asylum seekers in 2015. Projects that allow newcomers to be actively involved in their own integration, and increase their role in society, represent a successful model in both the Ukrainian and German contexts.

Valeria’s board game is part of a seminar that she organized in Zaporizhia for representatives from various public service agencies, social service organizations, and IDPs themselves. She sees this inclusive form of dialogue as a crucial step toward the process of successful integration and mutual understanding.

“It is necessary to increase the number of integration activities and the inclusion of displaced persons into the decision-making processes that will determine their own future.”

Storytelling for Civic Education

In the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, 200 miles away, Olga Sherbakova is giving a voice to the IDPs who have relocated to her city. She is the co-founder and coordinator of Line of Consent, an organization of psychotherapists and coaches who provide mental health services to individuals who were displaced from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Olga uses storytelling to communicate the plight of IDPs within their receiving community.

“Through our Playback Theater project, IDPs share their stories and professional actors bring them to life on the stage. Seeing the drama firsthand gives the audience a much better sense of what it is like to go through such an experience, and this has led to improvements in mutual understanding among different groups in the community.”

Olga (right) works with IDPs who have relocated to her city, Kharkiv.

Promoting understanding to be able to overcome stereotypes, structural inequalities, and social divisions is not a new concept in Germany. Cultural Vistas chose Berlin, the front line during the Cold War, as the location for this study tour due to its historic significance as a symbol for Germany’s ongoing process of reconciliation, especially since the reunification of Germany in 1990.

After visiting various memorials that highlighted life in divided Germany, the Ukrainian group took part in a moderated discussion with experts at Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, or “bpb” for short). Using the case of Germany as a starting point, German and Ukrainian moderators initiated a discussion that was “full of interesting thoughts and emotions,” in the words of one participant.

Looking ahead to a post-conflict Ukraine, the group faced the question of how to reconcile the divisions in their country—a discussion that significantly inspired Olga.

“Thanks to bpb, I was able to understand the difference between patriotic education and civic education. In my opinion, Ukraine needs to have more civic education developed.”

Olga now plans “to implement a project in Ukraine in the form of a series of meetings with representatives from the bpb. The possibilities of civic education remain untapped in Ukraine, and this would help Ukrainian society to better adapt to our ongoing processes of social change.”

Since her return to Kharkiv, Olga has held two meetings with social workers from the region, during which she presented integration tools and best practices acquired in Berlin.

“The meetings shifted the focus from trying to maintain control over IDPs to involving them more directly in community life. This program has expanded my ideas about how to make the lives of people in crisis better, and I thank Сultural Vistas for this amazing opportunity!”

Uniting the Displaced Olga Sherbakova, second from right, meets with social workers from Kharkiv.

Though the exact number of IDPs throughout Ukraine is unknown, UNHCR has estimated that at least 1.8 million individuals have had to flee their homes as a result of the conflict. And if quantifying the number of impacted individuals in such a situation is difficult, trying to assess the degree of their integration following relocation is an even greater challenge.

“The success of integration processes is difficult to measure and evaluate in the short term,” says Valeria, “but this is not a reason to abandon them.”

As the Senior Office Director for Cultural Vistas’ Berlin office (pictured left), I was honored to work on bringing together integration practitioners for a study tour to discuss best practices for dealing with IDPs in Germany and Ukraine.

To ensure a sustainable impact following the exchange, Cultural Vistas instructed the participants to craft action plans for implementing new ideas gained during the program in their home communities.

By creating this network of integration practitioners in Ukraine and bringing them into contact with their German counterparts, Cultural Vistas hopes to support the global process of removing social divisions and barriers to IDP integration, as Valeria and Olga have already begun doing locally.

The Exchange to Strengthen the Integration of IDPs in Ukraine was funded by the German Foreign Office and administered by Cultural Vistas’ European Office, in conjunction with its Ukrainian partner organization, the International Centre for Policy Studies.

The post Ukrainian IDPs and German Integration Practitioners Exchange Local Insights on Shared Global Challenges appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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Even after a teacher has taught countless students and memorized their subject matter and lesson plans by heart, there are still many ways to grow within their profession. Taking on the challenge of participating in an international teacher exchange program at a host school abroad is the perfect opportunity for teachers to develop professionally beyond what is possible in their home countries.

Foreign teachers in the U.S. enjoy a number of benefits to their professional development thanks to the Teach USA program and the J-1 Visa for teachers, which allows them the opportunity to earn salaries in full-time teaching positions for one to three years, with the option of extending for two more.

International teachers like Ianpol Canlas are helping fill classroom needs across the United States through the Teach USA J-1 Visa program.

In addition to contributing unique teaching styles to the American classroom, the nature and duration of this visa for teachers in the U.S. also allows American children to be exposed to cultural practices and traditions from outside the U.S.

Below are the stories of three teachers currently participating in this mutually beneficial teacher exchange program across the United States.

Ianpol Canlas: Hope High School in Arizona

Ian came from the Philippines to teach in the U.S. and seek out ways to innovate as a teacher within an American classroom. He has taught math to high school students in Arizona since 2016.

“I know we have this important and moral responsibility to the young generation we have today which is to prepare them to the continuous challenges that life has to offer,” said Ian. “This made me wonder and gave me the urge to look for a teaching opportunity outside the Philippines.”

Filipino teacher Ianpol Canlas poses with some of his students at Hope High School in Arizona.

Ian said there was a learning curve to understanding the American school system. The format for lesson plans as well as the culture and practices within Hope High School were very different than what he was accustomed to in the Philippines.

“It was really hard at first because you have to go through a drastic adjustment,” said Ian.

But Ian has clearly taken to his new school’s culture. He was voted one of the two most liked teachers by the senior class and described receiving numerous thank you cards from students. He’s also been recognized by his colleagues. During one of his teacher observation days, Ian led a lesson in which students presented a transformation they had seen in real life to the class. The classroom observers were so impressed that they had Ian lead the lesson again in front of his fellow teachers and his principal.

Ian has received numerous thank you notes from his students.

In addition to adjusting to the culture of teaching in the U.S., Ian also makes sure to bring his own Filipino background into the classroom.

“Sometimes I use Powerpoint presentations, Kahoot games, video presentations of facts about Philippines like food, beautiful places, culture and traditions,” he said. “We also had a Skype conversation with some Filipino students teaching my [American] students how to speak our language ‘Tagalog.’”

Ian plans on returning home at the end of this school year, but he knows that the Teach USA program will have a lasting impact on his life. He said that he has been exposed to new teaching methodologies which he will bring back to the Philippines. He also says the program has helped his students broaden their perspectives after being exposed to international ideas.

Ian poses with one of his graduating students.

“You will be surprised how you touched students’ lives,” he said.

Audra Campbell: Everglades Preparatory Academy in Florida

Audra Campbell is also a math teacher. After teaching in Jamaica for almost two decades, she decided to take the opportunity to teach in the U.S. on the J-1 Visa after being offered a job at Everglades Preparatory Academy—a Florida charter school.

Audra’s host school has helped her adjust to American classroom culture and how to teach in the U.S. by offering support to ease her transition.

“The staff members are like a family,” said Audra. “They help to make my transition less burdensome and are always encouraging me to ask for any assistance I may need.”

Jamaican teacher Audra Campbell taught in her home country for almost two decades before deciding to start teaching in Florida through the Teach USA J-1 Visa program.

Some of the biggest differences Audra has noticed between American and Jamaican classrooms is the amount of resources provided by the school. In Florida, she is given teaching materials and a much larger budget to buy classroom supplies. Another contrast with her experience back home is that Everglades Preparatory Academy divides students into small groups, or “centers,” in which they rotate through different activities. Audra said this approach makes the classroom feel more focused on the students rather than the teacher.

Though much of her day-to-day life as a teacher in the U.S. is the same as in Jamaica, Audra has learned new approaches to dealing with common problems and struggling students.

“I’ve learned that while a student is sharing his/her thoughts on the board, the others should not be sitting idly but should be entering their [thoughts] in their journals,” she said. “Also, in order to build students’ thinking skills, they are given a higher order question (H.O.T question) daily and so that too I will encourage when I return [to Jamaica].”

Audra said that teaching in the U.S. will help her improve how she teaches math in Jamaica. In the meantime, she’s grateful for how the Teach USA program is organized. She said the program provides teachers with information on traveling, living accommodations, health benefits, and shopping, and also arranges school visits to ensure that teachers are treated fairly.

Adam Weston: Downtown College Prep in California

British teacher Adam Weston first saw Downtown College Prep when he was on vacation in the San Francisco Bay area. He noticed that the San Jose school was having an employment fair and stopped by to learn more. Once the school and Adam decided they were a good fit for each other, they turned to Cultural Vistas to get J-1 Visa sponsorship for Adam through the Teach USA program.

British teacher Adam Weston has learned how to teach first generation Americans at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, California.

“I had been teaching in the UK for around six or seven years and I was enjoying it, but I wanted to do something a little different,” said Adam. “I wanted to teach in a new country to see what it was like and have a new experience.”

Downtown College Prep is a unique school because it is designed for first generation immigrant students. Adam had very little previous experiencing teaching in an ESL environment and had to re-orient his teaching style to accommodate non-native English speakers.

“The biggest eye opener for me is how willing they are,” said Adam. “Some of them just moved here and don’t speak English, but they will show up in the classroom every day and still give 100 percent.”

Adam and his teaching partner dress up as Dory and Darla from Finding Nemo for halloween at Downtown College Prep.

In addition to demographic differences, Adam said that the American approach to teaching is very different than in the United Kingdom. In his home country, he has to teach according to exam syllabuses. At Downtown College Prep, where he teaches social studies, Adam plans independent work and lets students choose readings based on their own interests. This makes students more responsible for their own learning than in the UK.

“In England, I found that I had the major responsibility in the classroom, where here it’s the students,” said Adam. “It’s about putting trust in the students to let them do that.”

While he has learned a lot by trying out new teaching methods, Adam brings his British-style teaching into the classroom too. Since the focus at Downtown College Prep is on day-to-day lessons, sometimes exam preparation can be overlooked. To resolve this, Adam developed a program that helps students know what to expect when they sit down for exams.

Adam has loved experiencing all the San Francisco Bay area has to offer while teaching at Downtown College Prep through the Teach USA J-1 Visa program.

“I do think it helps the school to have teachers come in who have knowledge of a different educational system to offer any suggestions for improvement,” he said.

After over a year in the United States, Adam will return home to England equipped with new ideas to try out in his British classroom. He’s aiming for a higher level position at a school where he can influence curriculum decisions and bring his international experience to the table.

The post International Teachers Leave Their Mark on American Schools Thanks to J-1 Visa appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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Global perspective is part of the fabric of engineering and architecture design consulting firm EXP. The company has over 110 office locations across the U.S. and Canada employing people from all around the world. In addition to their penchant for hiring top global talent, EXP helps grow the careers of those just starting out in the field in its role as a host company of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program.

Since 2011, EXP has had a special relationship with the next generation of professionals from Kuwait as a host for the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, which leads a professional development program for recent Kuwaiti graduates. Every year, 10 or more interns come to EXP’s Chicago headquarters through Cultural Vistas’ J-1 Visa sponsorship.

(From left to right) Sarah Johar, Sarah Ali, Zeenab Adnan Al-Saleh, Lulwah Alzamel and Anwar Alsharhan completed J-1 Visa internships at EXP after studying architecture and engineering in Kuwait.

“Our partnership with a company such as EXP is considered a pioneer in the field of engineering,” said Basel Abdulrahim from the Kuwait Fund. “EXP has provided great training experiences to our fresh graduate engineer and architects placing them in projects and giving them direct training to their field.”

This winter, EXP is hosting five Kuwaiti women at their headquarters—friends who knew each other during their undergraduate studies and wound up in Chicago together by coincidence. The Kuwait Fund program has a balanced gender ratio with a number of female architects and engineers in the country.

EXP’s many large-scale architecture and engineering projects make it an ideal host company for the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.

For all five women, interning at EXP is their first professional experience. And while it has been challenging to adapt to an American work environment, the interns all say that their time at EXP will be invaluable when they return to Kuwait as newly minted architects and engineers.

Scaling Up

Intern Anwar Alsharhan says that the architecture field in Kuwait is very different than in the U.S. In her home country, projects tend to be residential and smaller scale. EXP, on the other hand, works with the government and private companies on larger projects.

Lula and Anwar work together on a project at EXP.

Anwar, along with Sarah Johar and Zeenab Adnan Al-Saleh, have been placed in EXP’s architecture department and have worked on everything from transportation projects to designs on behalf of the U.S. Postal Service.

“Big projects in Kuwait are [often] done by foreign companies,” said Sarah Johar. “So [at EXP] I get the chance to experience different scale projects.”

Many of EXP’s large-scale projects are located across the city of Chicago, which means that the Kuwaiti interns can frequently go see the fruits of their labor. For example, Anwar worked on a redesign of Chicago’s 95th/Dan Ryan “L” train stop.

“I was able to go visit the site last week,” said Anwar. “It was a lot of fun and interesting to see how it’s coming together.”

For Sarah Johar, one of the best parts of interning at EXP is being able to apply her interest in adaptive redesign—repurposing old buildings without changing the facade. Many architecture projects at EXP require adaptive redesign because of the age of many of Chicago’s old buildings.

Sarah Johar likes working on large scale projects at EXP.

“[In Chicago] you have buildings from the ‘20s or ‘30s still standing,” she said. “Our oldest building is about 50 years because we don’t do maintenance very well.”

Real World Skills

As with many STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates with considerable theoretical knowledge but not much practical experience, the Kuwaiti interns said that working on-the-ground in architecture and engineering is very important to their future careers.

“I didn’t see the practical side of my major until coming here,” said electrical engineer Sarah Ali. She has been working on a project for AT&T and has done multiple site visits.

The five interns will remain at EXP until March, when they’ll return to Kuwait for the last part of the Kuwait Fund program.

“It’s so different from college,” said Anwar. “When I came here, I started working on projects that were being built. I’ve learned a lot more about how the real world works when it comes to construction and design.”

Some of the most important skills that the women are picking up is practical application of architecture and engineering computer programs. The interns were required to take a course in Revit at the beginning of their time at EXP. Lulu has since used the program to model buildings and test their weight-holding capabilities.

For Sarah Johar, having to speak English on a daily basis is very important for her future career. She’s working on coming out of her shell to practice speaking the language more often while in the United States.

Zeenab seeks advice from her mentor on a project. All of the interns are placed with mentors to help them ease into the workplace.

Zeenab says that her STEM internship at EXP is the first step towards her dream of opening her own office one day. She plans on getting her MBA and starting a company that designs events once she returns to Kuwait.

The Windy City

Cold Chicago isn’t the first-choice winter destination for most people from hot, desert climates like the Middle East. But for these five STEM interns, living in the architecture hub of the United States has been one of the highlights of their overseas experience.

To cope with the new, and much colder, climate, the interns opted for an easy commute. They live right across the street from EXP’s Chicago office.

“We’re desert girls, so we can’t deal with the cold,” said Lulu.

Some of the Kuwaiti interns enjoy their first Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

In their spare time, the women have explored the city’s many parks, museums, and cultural attractions. A coworker even invited them to attend a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Chicago.

“All the styles, the art deco, the classic, we don’t have that in Kuwait,” said Sarah Johar. “We only study it in art history. But I got the chance to see it [in person].”

Experiencing Chicago’s architecture scene is one of the highlights of the internship experience.

For the interns, living in Chicago is their first experience with living on their own. Sarah Johar’s parents encouraged her to go abroad to gain this independence, while Lulu’s mother was more hesitant. But Lulu herself didn’t feel nervous at all about living in the United States. She knew that her religion and headscarf would not be an issue, having had previously visited the U.S. several times prior to her internship.

“I love everything about this country and I’m absolutely having a great time in Chicago. In all my visits, the people have been friendly and nice and I’ve never been in a situation where I was discriminated.”

The post Kuwaiti Women in STEM Complete Internships in the Windy City appeared first on Cultural Vistas.

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