Virtual Exchange Sparks Confidence, New Career Pathways
Culturingua's Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey
Through Culturingua’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey, students in Benghazi, Libya, and San Antonio, Texas, United States, gained confidence and skills for their future careers while creating binational friendships and increasing their knowledge of other world languages. Throughout the seven-week program, students worked together to create a social enterprise idea that addresses a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.
When Tasnim was chosen by the Alnabighaa Alsagheer School to participate in Culturingua’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey, the 14-year-old was excited to learn about another culture and help create a solution addressing one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Her teammate, Lennon, an eighth grader at Woodlawn Academy in San Antonio, Texas, United States, was also excited, but unsure of what to expect, citing that he didn’t know much about Libya prior to the exchange.
Connecting in real-time via Zoom and Flipgrid despite an eight-hour time difference, they had just under two months to create a self-sustaining enterprise that addresses a UN Sustainable Development Goal. Along with fellow team members from Libya and the U.S., they collaborated on a clean energy solution to provide electricity to South Sudan, one of the least electrified nations in the world, through dams that harness the movement of the Nile River into hydroelectric energy. In addition to learning how to adopt an innovative, entrepreneurial mindset to solve real-world problems, the group learned about one another – in introductory sessions, they quickly realized they all liked Marvel movies – but also about themselves and the world around them. Tasnim, who considers herself shy, didn’t expect to present her team’s solution to judges from business communities in Libya and the U.S. She was surprised to have her fears calmed by the presence of her binational team of friends. “When I was in front of the judges in Libya and America, I didn’t feel scared [at all]. [In spite of being online], I felt like my American [friends] were actually right there next to me. Even though I’m always shy and like my other school presentations, I was a bit brave that day [because of their support],” she said.
[Virtual exchange] opens your eyes to how many countries and how many places in the world there are on Earth.
As their weekly visits carried on, they also got to share about language, learning common expressions in both Arabic and English. Lennon enjoyed learning about Arabic slang, and was particularly interested in the phrase “شنو الجو؟” (pronunciation: shoono jow), which literally means “How’s the weather?” and is used to ask someone how they are doing. Overall, he was excited to learn more about Libya, a place he once knew little about. “[Virtual exchange] opens your eyes to how many countries and how many places in the world there are on Earth,” he said.
At the same time, groups from the International School of Benghazi in Libya, and the Advanced Learning Academy in San Antonio, were also sharing language while collaborating on climate action goals through virtual exchange.
Even though it is scary to meet people from a place you barely know anything about, you really have more in common than you think.
Advanced Learning Academy 11th grade student Eleanor, who hopes to go into journalism or international affairs, said she loved learning about Arabic. “I was really interested in their language,” Eleanor said. “[The Arabic] phrase for ‘fork in the road,’ مجموعة اختيارات (pronunciation: majmooaat akhteearat) wasn’t a translation of ‘fork;’ it was a translation into ‘group of choices,’ which I thought was really cool.”
Like Tasnim and Lennon’s team, Eleanor’s binational group was composed of participants from Libya and the U.S., including ninth grade student Raad, who attends International School of Benghazi. Eleanor and Raad also quickly discovered commonality; specifically, a love for basketball. “I immediately knew that we would get along because we both know and love basketball teams,” Eleanor said.
Raad, who wants to become a lawyer, said he joined the program to help with his public speaking, but he also took one of the lead roles in research as the team planned an orchard that would combat deforestation in Nigeria and provide income to farmers through fruit sales. While the group had plenty of fun during weekly Zoom sessions, Eleanor and Raad agreed that they also managed to divide tasks well among themselves to get the job done. “Some of our classmates in Libya were really good at doing research and learning the super nitty-gritty parts of what we were trying to find. That was really helpful when we were trying to discover a location to focus on and how to combat climate change in that specific place, so I really appreciated their skills,” Eleanor said.
Before I came in, I knew I really wanted to go into journalism, but now it’s kind of like the whole world has opened. I think that doing something internationally or working as a diplomat would be so amazing, just so that I can connect with people from all over the world. This really gave me the confidence to think that I could do something like that with people from anywhere.
The relationship both teams (Tasnim and Lennon’s, Eleanor and Raad’s) built throughout the seven-week projects helped make presenting their solutions run smoothly. “You need to get to know your teammates first. You can’t just meet them once, barely talk, and just try to work on it,” Lennon said.
Overall, participants left with increased confidence in their skills and their place in a big global community. “I think the biggest thing is that even though it is scary to meet people from a place you barely know anything about, you really have more in common than you think,” Eleanor said. “Before I came in, I knew I really wanted to go into journalism, but now it’s kind of like the whole world has opened. I think that doing something internationally or working as a diplomat would be so amazing, just so that I can connect with people from all over the world. This really gave me the confidence to think that I could do something like that with people from anywhere.”
Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey is implemented by Culturingua 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.