How U.S. Communities Benefit from International Education

Co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, International Education Week is an opportunity to explore and showcase the benefits of international education and exchange in the U.S. and abroad. World Learning is celebrating all week long with stories about how international education has made a difference for our program participants from 162 countries worldwide. Today, we’re highlighting how U.S. communities benefit from international education.

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World Learning’s programs strive to create a multiplier effect: we’re not just engaging the participants of our exchange programs; we also work with the communities in which the participants volunteer, attend school, live, and work. Our international alumni have tutored children in Washington, DC, and broadened the perspectives of their U.S. university roommates. Our U.S.-based alumni have hosted photography workshops for people in recovery in Oregon and created art exhibitions exploring Deaf culture. Read on to learn more about their experiences.

Helping People in Recovery Gain Confidence in Oregon

Photo provided by Geoffrey Hiller of his “Art of Recovery Photography Workshop.”

Geoffrey Hiller wanted to make a difference in his community. As a participant in the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES), he recently hosted an “Art of Recovery Photography Workshop” over the course of three months in Portland, Oregon. His goal was to use photography as a therapeutic tool to help people who are in recovery gain self-confidence through the act of photographing portraits of locals and tourists — and thereby engaging with those community members.

“Being outside and walking around taking photographs has a way of releasing chemicals in the brain that can help foster well-being,” Hiller said in his project proposal. “Our goal is to show that picture-making can become a transformative process.”

Alumni TIES is a series of regionally focused seminars that provide alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs with opportunities to learn about key regional issues, receive training specific to their seminar, and collaborate with fellow alumni to implement projects in their communities. These three- to four-day seminars take place in six world regions and the U.S., and include expert speakers, site visits, networking activities, and opportunities for interacting with U.S. communities. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning.

During the workshop, Hiller took the group on photography walks, reviewed their images, and worked with them on image processing and editing. He noticed participants began to bond and open up about their struggles and situations; he also noticed them becoming more comfortable in their community. Overall, the work produced by the participants far exceeded Hiller’s expectations — and his workshop participants agreed.

“I think there really is a link between making photographs and recovery,” one workshop participant said, adding that mindfulness is key to both. “You need to be in the moment to capture the moment. It’s not necessarily about being happy — it’s about being mindful.”

Giving Back to Host Communities Through Volunteering in Washington, DC

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Joe Joseph working with one of his students.

Last fall, Joe Joseph came to the U.S. from his native India to study as part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD). He left with a new perspective on education, thanks to a community service experience.

Global UGRAD is an academic exchange program that has brought more than 2,200 students to the U.S. to experience the educational system, share their culture, and explore U.S. culture and values. They study at colleges and universities in communities across the country, where they engage in professional development cultural enrichment, and community service opportunities. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning.

Joseph volunteered with the DC Reads program in Washington, DC. As he wrote about his experience: “I realized that being a tutor is not just about imparting knowledge, but also involves learning from your pupils. I was able to understand how children of such a young age perceived the various new things they saw around them, and how they considered each word of knowledge from their teachers with great respect and enthusiasm. The energy and joy the kids had was enough to power me up for the whole day.

“Esau and Christopher are just two lucky students who got the chance to receive an education. This is not the case in all parts of the world. There is a major portion of children who are deprived of basic education. It was only when I got the chance to be a tutor that I was truly able to understand the importance and impact that education has on a child and the society in which he/she grows. Education is not just about reading new books or understanding basic concepts and principles; rather, it is allowing the student to realize the true potential within and to fire up the spark of imagination and creativity.

“Before departing to India, I got a letter from DC Reads. It was a goodbye postcard. I opened it up and it read, ’Thank you, Joe, for teaching us to read and write. — Esau, Christopher.’”

Visit the Global Gazette to read more about Joseph’s experience as well as to discover the community service stories of other Global UGRAD alumni.

Learning About the World — Without Leaving Montana

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Sibo and Elizabeth spending time together at Carroll College.

Global UGRAD also extends far beyond its international participants, reaching out to U.S. host communities and individuals as well. Elizabeth Hodgson, the American roommate of Global UGRAD student Sibongile from Zimbabwe, says she learned so much about the world just from sharing her room:

“The experience was one I shall carry with me for the rest of my life. Not only did I make a friend, but I also learned about life and living in a country other than my own. This broadened my world perspective and gave me insight into a culture with different traditions and approaches to everyday living as well as political viewpoints and educational aspirations which are different from my own.

Living in such proximity as a dorm room with someone completely different from me was at first a bit intimidating and uncomfortable, but this immersion was truly the key to experiencing and opening up to respecting the differences we each found in each other as well as finding common ground. We studied together, we exercised together, we shopped together, we socialized together, and we ate together.

Read more about Elizabeth and Sibo’s friendship in their story, Through the Eyes of Our Roommates.

Connecting Young Deaf Artists in Belgium and the U.S.

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Joseph Antonio (far right) shares how Connecting Capitals is building bridges between the Deaf world and the hearing world.

World Learning’s international exchange programs aren’t only based in the U.S. We also send U.S. citizens out into the world to help them experience other cultures.

Communities Connecting Heritage is one such program. It builds partnerships between communities in the U.S. and the world through virtual and in-person exchange projects exploring cultural heritage. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning.

CCH recently brought together a group of nine young artists from Belgium and the U.S. through the Connecting Capitals program, a collaboration between BOZAR — a distinguished international cultural center based in Brussels — and Gallaudet University, the world’s only Deaf University, which is based in Washington, DC. These artists used multimedia and innovative performance art techniques to promote the understanding of Deaf cultural heritage. During the first part of the exchange, the Belgian students traveled to the U.S. to meet on the Gallaudet campus; the U.S. students then traveled to Brussels to complete the exchange. Joey Antonio, a Gallaudet student, believes such opportunities are important for U.S. citizens:

“Cultural exchange is a form of access and allows for more understanding of new experiences. People in different locations are going to have different experiences that you can’t just compare from where you are. If I’m in the U.S. and my comfort zone, I have only my understanding of what we have here instead of what’s happening out there. Maybe I would try to change things somewhere else because I think the problems of other places are the same as problems here and that’s not true. So, culture comes into the picture there.

This exchange allows for access, allows us to learn from each other, and that works very well for us. It’s great to be able to have that mutual respect develop [between the U.S. and Belgian participants].”

Read more about these young artists and their exploration of Deaf cultural heritage here.

Written by Lakyn Ausherman, a program associate at World Learning.

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World Learning empowers people, communities, and institutions to create a more peaceful and just world.

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