Tag Archives: cultural exchange

An International Audience

by Erin Kelly
December 10 2012

A couple of months ago, I was one of the trip leaders for a group of high school exchange students traveling to Colorado. These students are here for the year and had arrived in early fall. They were placed with host families all over the country, but they had decided to go on one of the trips that CCI Greenheart, their exchange sponsor organization (and where I work), offers throughout the year. The trips are a mix of fun activities and volunteering, where they can learn about community service and meet other exchange students from around the globe. This particular trip was to Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, CO, up in the mountains outside of Denver. And I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the people to lead the trip.

Every day was packed with activities. Each morning we would hike up into the mountains to take in the beautiful scenery, and after lunch we would do a volunteer project or other fun activity like zip lining. In the evenings, we would have workshops where we would talk about what it means to be a volunteer and how we can get involved in our communities.

One of the nights, we showed the film. This was a new experience for me, as I had not yet been present for a screening of the film to such a young audience.  I realized, as I sat there watching with the students, that this was one of our target audiences. These were the types of people that we most wanted to reach – the young people who have the energy, optimism and lives ahead of them to create their own path and make a difference in what they’re passionate about. Not only that, but they were also an international audience. They represented 9 different countries, 9 different places where they could spread the messages of the film. I felt a little nervous as I waited for the film to end, anxious to hear their comments.

After the film ended, we sat in a circle and I asked some discussion questions. What traits did the subjects share? What were some of the challenges they faced and how did they overcome them? What was the role of the volunteer in some of these stories and how much did the subjects depend on them? They had some good answers, but it wasn’t until I asked each of them to say two words about how the film made them feel that the best thoughts were shared. Here are some of my favorites:

“I would say ambitious and proud. I’m proud of just knowing that people in the world are doing things like that.” – Yumna (Morocco)

 “It makes me feel like I have the right ideas.” – Oleksandra (Ukraine)

“Thoughtful because it makes me think about it, and also have motivation and courage to start something. If people like that can do it, why can’t I? I mean, anyone can do it if you have the courage.” – Maxime (Switzerland)

“Kind of amazed because you don’t really see that around my area and it kind of makes me think about my future and things that I can do, and I want to do something.” – Lorraine (Upstate NY)

“Hopeful and unbelievable. You just live only once.” – Gulzhan (Kazakhstan)

It was an honor to show the film to such a bright group of motivated people from around the world, ready to make a difference. That is what it’s all about.

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Continuing Cultural Exchange in Chicago

by Erin Kelly
October 31 2010

Hello everyone – yes, I still exist! It took me a little while to adjust to life back in Chicago, but now I can say that I finally feel settled in. It’s strange when I think about our trip – it almost feels like it was a completely different life. In a way, it was: living out of a suitcase, constantly on the move, and being slapped with culture shock again and again is very different from living in one apartment and going to the same job everyday. But, for me, that’s exactly what I need right now. Stability is something that I actually craved this summer. People might call me crazy but I love me some order and routine. That’s not to say that there haven’t been any changes.

I started a new job this month at the Center for Cultural Interchange – a nonprofit organization that facilitates cultural exchange programs for young people, mainly for high school students. I work in the Academic Year Programs department, which works with inbound foreign high school students coming to study and live in the U.S. You might think: “Wow! That job sounds perfect for you and makes so much sense, given your experience this summer.” And I would reply: “You’re right!” I’m very excited to be working there, and I feel fortunate that I am able to work in a field that I actually care about. I believe that it’s so important for everyone to have some kind of experience abroad, especially for young people, for it is through cultural exchange that we can learn to understand and respect others and ourselves. That is certainly something that I learned this summer.

Although my job is mostly administrative, behind-the-scenes work, I got to meet some of the kids last week when a group of them visited Chicago. They were all from different countries, thus forced to use English as their common language. It struck me then that not only were they learning about life in the U.S., they were also learning about many other countries through their fellow members of the program. How cool is that? They were great kids and fascinating to talk to. I loved hearing them talk about how school in the U.S. was so different from their schools at home (aka a lot easier), what they thought of the fall season and American football games, how far off their perceptions of what the U.S. would be like were from reality. It took me back to talking with the boys on the farm in Argentina. I said to myself, this is why I am working here. I hope that there will be many more moments like that to come.

I want to thank everyone who has donated so far to our project on Kickstarter. Your donations mean so much to us, and we couldn’t do this without you! I hope that those who have not so far will consider contributing as well – or at least spreading the word to everyone you know.

Thank you again, and Happy Halloween everybody!

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