In her last year of high school in Morocco, Lara took time out of her busy senior year to participate in the World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange (WACVE). She was encouraged by her teachers, who saw this as an opportunity for her to develop personally and academically. At the beginning, it wasn’t clear how much of an impact this experience would have on her, but she soon found out just how much a cross-cultural program like WACVE could help shape her view of the world.
Lara grew to love the English language through reading many books. Growing up in Morocco, she did not regularly have opportunities to practice her English skills or to communicate with peers in English. “I always look for opportunities to improve my communication skills and my English level so this experience was just the whole package… I got to meet new people and work with them and improve my English skills.”
Through this program, Lara was able to challenge her own ideas about people from different backgrounds than her, which she did not have many opportunities to do prior to the virtual exchange. “I got to know [my peers] on another level. I got to see all the lack of understanding [in our societies and] I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to understand people with other points of view,” she said. She felt that the program created an environment that was warm and welcoming to all, and that truly allowed her to open up and be receptive to learning about other cultures and experiences from her facilitators and peers.
Lara knew that there were areas within herself that she wanted to improve and this virtual exchange seemed like it could possibly help. As someone who struggled with working with others, this experience allowed her to realize what it means to work as a team. She went into the program with a learning mindset, ready for the challenge of becoming a better version of herself. “I [learned that I] can’t just make them do what I want them to do and I can’t just do the whole job – I have to be part of the group.” She worked with a small group on a project to tackle plastic pollution, and together they came up with a proposed solution, plastic-eating fungus, to address this issue. Though they did not win a formal award for this project, the process of working together on a cross-cultural team was a learning opportunity that came with its own set of successes. Not only did she develop her collaboration skills, but she also learned about important attributes of a leader, like stepping back to allow others to share ideas and contribute in their own way.
This experience has allowed Lara to learn so much from her peers. Lara is applying these lessons in her daily interactions with her classmates at school, but she also intends on carrying these lessons with her as she takes the next step in her academic career and enters university. The journey working with her peers had an invaluable impact on how she views not only others, but herself as well. “I went into the WACVE program for the experience itself – for the interactions and for the sessions, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very vital year for me in my last year of high school, where I decide my entire future, and I don’t regret giving part of this very important time to the WACVE experience.”
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World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange is implemented by WorldDenver and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.