Connecting from Tunisia and the United States, Ahmed and Avonlea participated in World Learning’s The Experiment Digital's summer 2021 virtual exchange. In addition to developing their leadership and civic engagement skills, they learned about other cultures and formed meaningful friendships with their peers through online dialogue.
After an isolating year brought on by the pandemic, Ahmed in Tunisia believed participating in The Experiment Digital was his chance to develop his English language, public speaking, and leadership skills. Thousands of miles away in the United States, Avonlea thought it would help her learn more about global issues. Little did they know that their summer virtual exchange would also empower them to form meaningful connections and encourage cross-cultural learning with peers across the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa.
Throughout their virtual exchange, Ahmed and Avonlea participated in asynchronous activities rooted in digital citizenship, civic engagement, and project planning. They also joined bi-weekly live dialogue calls on Zoom. Led by program facilitators, dialogues provide a critical space for participants to share their personal stories, hopes, fears, and thoughts on critical topics in small “family” groups consisting of eight to 10 participants.
"After hearing from my peers, and connecting together, it made me think about the bigger picture and how there’s this whole group of people who are really passionate about doing things in the future to help our world."
Avonlea, Participant, World Learning's The Experiment Digital
Family dialogues present a unique opportunity for students to learn more about the daily lives of their peers in different countries – something Ahmed and Avonlea hadn’t had the opportunity to do before. Thinking back to their first dialogue call, Ahmed and Avonlea remember the awkward shyness they both felt, feeling unsure about how to listen and communicate with peers from other cultures and backgrounds. As the weeks went on and the dialogues prompted personal reflections on social norms, stereotypes, and community issues, their family group became closer and closer.
By their final dialogue, the group wasn’t ready to say goodbye. “It was sad because it was the last family dialogue,” shared Ahmed. “But I was also happy because I have experienced a lot of things with my peers and Alex, our facilitator.” Avonlea remembers how meaningful the last dialogue was, as it also was when Ahmed planned a surprise for their facilitator Alex, asking each participant to create and hold up a thank you sign during the last moments of their call.
The greater connection and supportive digital community fostered through these family dialogues continue long after the program has concluded. Ahmed and Avonlea’s family group stays in touch by brainstorming project ideas in group chats and celebrating personal successes on social media. “The program was a world we came into, but now we are more connected. If you have any project idea or anything you are trying to do, you can share it with your peers and ask for advice,” said Ahmed.
"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. 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.”
Ahmed, Participant, World Learning's The Experiment Digital
Since the program, Avonlea feels better equipped with the tools needed to take action in her community and find solutions to local issues alongside her peers. “After hearing from my peers, and connecting together, it made me think about the bigger picture and how there’s this whole group of people who are really passionate about doing things in the future to help our world,” said Avonlea. With the support of his peers, Ahmed learned how to transform himself to lead change in his community. “Before the program, I was Ahmed. But now, I’m Ahmed 2.0.” Ahmed is leading the way for young people in Tunisia to be more involved in their communities by sharing new virtual exchange opportunities like The Experiment Digital.
“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. 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,” he said.
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The Experiment Digital is implemented by World Learning 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.