When we think about what we wish for the world’s young people, we think about their health and happiness – a chance to develop their unique talents and contribute fully to society. We hope they’ll have meaningful relationships that enhance their efforts and make them feel they’re not alone.
At the Stevens Initiative, we believe that having international experiences in which every young person has the opportunity to hear and be heard by people of another country and culture is integral to that vision. For some, traveling or studying for a time overseas will provide that life-changing opportunity.
For others, whether due to financial constraints or competing obligations, in-person travel is out of reach – but the benefits of global learning are not. Virtual exchange can provide many of the same opportunities for personal growth, global skill development, a broader worldview, and the enduring pleasure of relationships that can last a lifetime.
It’s the reason why we’re so passionate about our conviction that an international experience must be part of every young person’s education. I’ll let Ahmed, 22, of Yemen tell you why. He’s participated in three Stevens Initiative virtual exchange programs: World Learning’s The Experiment Digital, Amideast’s Qisasna, and Soliya’s Global Circles.
“I believe every person has something the other person doesn’t have, so we complete each other. I know I’m coming from a different country with a different culture and background, and the same thing goes for Americans. We all taught each other. We asked for help from the American participants, and they asked for help from us. The fact that we are collaborating and vibing with each other means we’re completing one another.”
Similarly, Soukaina, 17, from Morocco, and Shelby, 14, from the United States found that through WorldDenver’s World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange, they could accomplish more to achieve sustainability in their local communities through the power of intercultural teamwork. “Connecting with like-minded people is one of the most valuable aspects [of the program], because we connect and talk about issues that both our countries are facing, so that helps us find common ground,” Soukaina said. Since discovering her passion for reducing food waste, she’s committed to continuing research on the subject.
And when Ahmed of Tunisia and Avonlea of the U.S. participated in World Learning’s The Experiment Digital in summer 2021, they expected to develop their language skills and learn about global issues. What they didn’t anticipate is that they would develop an international peer group that continues to support each other personally and professionally through social media.
“The Experiment Digital wasn’t just about the activities that you do, but it was about making connections with new friends all over the globe, Ahmed said. “It was a chance I hadn’t had in my 17 years in my community. It feels like my life was waiting for this experience. It was like the door was closed and The Experiment Digital came to open it for me.”
This International Education Week, let’s reflect on the friends, peers, and educators around the world who have enriched our lives. Let’s recall the things we accomplished with them that we couldn’t have done on our own. And then let’s redouble our efforts to bring the gift of virtual exchange to many more young people, for their bright future as well as ours.