WorldDenver's World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange
When Soukaina, 17, from Morocco, and Shelby, 14, from the United States, applied for a virtual exchange program, they both wanted to connect with peers in another country to discuss global issues. Through WorldDenver’s World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange, they found more common interests than they expected and experienced the power of intercultural teamwork in effecting change in their local communities.
Shelby and Soukaina participated in the World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange (WACVE) as a way to build on their interest in common challenges faced by people around the world. “This was an opportunity for me to exchange my thoughts on global issues with people from another country. I was very intrigued because there were people from North Africa, from the MENA region,” said Soukaina. “I didn’t know that people from my region were interested in global issues.”
In an era of uncertainty and isolation brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic, WACVE brings together students from Colorado, U.S., and the MENA region to build relationships with peers across the world as they strategize together on how to contribute to a more sustainable future. Shelby and Soukaina, who were on one of WACVE’s bi-national student teams, explored global issues connected to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and worked together to plan and present a project to address one of those issues in their local communities.
“One ah-ha moment that I had was on the first day. [The Moroccan students] were telling us things about themselves, and then it came to me that we are basically the same."
Shelby, Participant, WorldDenver’s World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange
Soukaina, too, had a revelation about her own country: while she had interacted with American teenagers before and was familiar with American culture, traditions, and interests, she didn’t realize that people from her own region also cared about global issues: “I didn’t think that my peers, people my age, would be interested in talking about global issues. I thought they would think it’s boring, but instead they were very involved in our conversations, posting on social media, and trying to get their friends involved. It definitely changed my opinion when it comes to peers who are from the same region as me,” she said.
“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. “One thing that I loved about my teammates was that there were differences in our cultures, in our religions, and so many other things. The program helped us to understand people, to put yourself in their shoes, so you can understand what they are thinking.”
“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. One thing that I loved about my teammates was that there were differences in our cultures, in our religions, and so many other things. The program helped us to understand people, to put yourself in their shoes, so you can understand what they are thinking.”
Soukaina, Participant, WorldDenver’s World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange
Both Shelby and Soukaina were always ready to engage and actively collaborate with their peers, both taking on leadership roles within their team. They noted that the program allowed them to further their cross-cultural communication skills and discover their passions for the environment and advocacy. “I hope to use everything that I have learned to help make me a better person and to also help me understand people a bit better and remember that we are not all that different. My plans for the future are to become a lawyer,” said Shelby. While Soukaina is not entirely sure which career path she wants to have, she knows for a fact that she would like to continue doing research on the topic of food waste. “The program was really helpful because I didn’t know I had this passion for food waste… It’s really amazing. You never know what you’re passionate about until you put effort into it, and then when you see that you’re involved and doing things you’re like ‘oh yeah, I’m going to keep going!’”
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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.