In December 2020, American high school student Jacqueline “Jackie” completed a Global Nomads Group’s (GNG) Student to World Program course: Overcoming Bias. The course introduced Jackie to the personal stories and experiences of her global peers from the Middle East and North Africa in the context of recognizing and confronting bias. Afterwards, during a virtual event hosted by GNG at her high school in New Jersey, Barnstable Academy, Jackie learned how biases are formed and how to recognize, question, and overcome them.
After this first virtual exchange experience, Jackie became more comfortable collaborating with new people. She says she now gives herself time to get to know someone without judgment. “I credit Student to World for making my once-rigid-self flexible and open to new opportunities,” she said. As part of the Overcoming Bias program, participants complete an activity, “How Diverse is your Universe?,” which aims to highlight the diversity present (or absent) in their lives. Jackie noticed that her circle is less diverse than she expected, and she recognized the value of broadening her horizons and seeking opportunities for intercultural communication in her daily life. “[A]s an Asian-American born in the United States, I have found that highlighting the strengths of diversity and celebrating the beauty of having distinction in a society is crucial for overcoming stubborn stereotypes,” she noted.
In summer 2021, Jackie was selected for a Stevens Initiative-GNG Alumni Internship. From August to October, she worked with a group of 10 fellow interns from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia to develop strategy and create content for GNG’s youth-driven Seat at the Table program.
She found that her experience as a participant in the virtual exchange program allowed her to enter the internship with an open mind. “Student to World taught me to not insert ideas into my head about what the experience may look like, but rather go into the first internship meeting with a friendly, inclusive, and open mind… My teammates were no longer identified by distance, or time zone, but as my friends,” Jackie said.
During the Alumni Internship, Jackie led a cross-national team of three young people from the MENA region – developing her leadership skills through a unique exchange experience. Through this experience, she realized the importance of being purpose-driven in order to successfully lead. Although the team faced some issues related to time zone differences and internet connectivity, Jackie learned to accept what was out of her control. She found that they could still work together productively, despite the challenges they faced, as long as they focused on a common purpose.
As Jackie begins thinking about college, her GNG program experiences are helping her to maintain a positive, open attitude while applying to and touring schools. She is trying to remain unbiased and instead find value in each college opportunity she has. Professionally, the internship program gave her insights into what work is like and helped her build the communication skills needed to prepare her for the global workforce.
Jackie’s virtual exchange experiences with both Student to World and the Alumni Internship programs will help her personally and professionally as she navigates our complex and often contentious world. “The most valuable lesson I have learned is connecting with people from not only my country, and working towards a common effort,” she said. Jackie will continue to apply her new skills when interacting with new faces and experiences moving forward, leaving us all with the much needed reminder that “in the end, we’re all just teenagers living in the same world.”
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Student to World is implemented by Global Nomads Group 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.