Amal, 24, is a Tunisian alumna of the Connect Program, an 8-week virtual exchange program implemented by Soliya. As a sophomore at Tunis Business School, she participated in the virtual exchange as part of a technical writing class in 2018 – a time when online exchanges weren’t as common as they are now. Currently an Investor Engagement Officer at a pan-African private equity firm, she finds herself tapping into the skills and perspectives she gained through the experience and applying it to her professional life.
Amal reflects on how the Connect Program ignited an interest in forming deeper connections with people from different cultural backgrounds and exposed her to new issues and perspectives. “It was super interesting to have dialogue sessions with people coming from the U.S. and Libya. I learned about gun control rules in the U.S. for the first time and the challenges Americans face against gun violence,” she says.
Most importantly, Amal says that participating in virtual exchange has made her more open to international experiences. “I took an interest in conflict resolution and dialogue, and became a trainer for intercultural groups. I realized my passion for volunteering.”
Amal has since served on the board of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) as a youth advisor. She was selected to be a Young Tunisian Climate Change Negotiator for the UN, participating at the UN’s Conference on Climate Change, COP26, as a party delegate. She also volunteers with Future Leaders of the Danish Tunisian Scout to empower Tunisian youth through training in dialogue and advocacy. “I see my place in the world where I can bring about positive changes,” she said.
The idea of using dialogue as a means for knowledge has transformed Amal’s worldview and the active role she hopes to take in helping shape a better world. “International dialogue is different from our day-to-day conversations and debates,” she said. A program tenet of Soliya is that dialogue, unlike debate, involves the activation of human empathy.
Facilitators were present in the sessions, helping cultivate a safe environment conducive to authentic self-expression and exchange, which Amal found her virtual exchange experience to reflect. “There was no censorship or manipulation, unlike social media where this is likely to happen. People were vulnerable and without masks. The focus was on learning; there was cultural context and mutual respect. The facilitators made sure everyone was engaged. They challenged us and guided us with questions.”
Amal’s advice for future participants? “Enjoy the ride. Be open and stay curious. Don’t do it for the grades or certificates, as the rewards in the long run are much greater.”
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