Cultural Vistas Blog

This #GivingTuesday, We’re Inspired By These Muskie Alumni Volunteers

#GivingTuesday is a global movement that connects individuals, communities, and organizations around the world to celebrate and encourage giving back. Celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, it represents a global day focused on promoting sustainable change in one’s community.

Even before #GivingTuesday, volunteering and investing in one’s community has been an important facet of American culture. Dating back to the founding of our country, Americans have banded together to help serve the collective good. In 1736, Benjamin Franklin founded the first volunteer firehouse, a concept that continues today with more than 70 percent of firefighters in the United States being volunteers.

Nowadays, the idea of giving encompasses donating one’s time, money, or knowledge to better the health and well-being of the community. In 2015 alone, more than 62 million Americans volunteered more than 7.8 billion hours.

At Cultural Vistas, we honor this American tradition by encouraging our international participants to give back to their adopted communities.

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To Moscow, to Moscow!

To Moscow, to Moscow! – this has always been the yearning phrase proclaimed by characters in novels by Anton Chekhov. “To Moscow!“, they say full of longing because life is supposedly better in Moscow, where they anticipated work and opportunity. But in the end, they never go to Moscow. In June 2016 I, too, told myself: “To Moscow!” but with one difference – I actually went!

What made the difference? The Alfa Fellowship Program.

When I began my undergraduate studies in 2006, I chose Russian as a foreign language. At that time, I could never have imagined that I would develop such a close relationship to Russia and its culture, build such kind friendships with its people, and take several trips resulting from this choice. Since then, I have always been pulled back to Russia.

Ten years later, in the summer of 2016, I now find myself back in Moscow through the Alfa Fellowship Program, a young professionals program for emerging leaders from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.

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So You’ve Reached Your Goal Level in a Language. Now What?

Some say that learning a new language after you have reached adulthood is impossible, or too hard, or you just don’t have enough time for it.

Granted, learning a language is difficult. In addition to suddenly having to relearn the grammar of your native language, you are now confronted with memorizing vocabulary lists . You sign up for a class, go through the standard levels of basic, intermediate, advanced intermediate. Maybe you even travel to the country of the language you are learning, or find some friends to practice with.

Finally, you reach your goal level. Now what?

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International Education: What Does It Mean to You?

At the root of our work is the belief that global understanding and the opportunities to learn about other’s cultures and perspectives,
not only broadens our own, but enables us to explore more effective approaches to a range of societal issues.

When we understand how people experience the world, we become more aware of our own experiences. We are better informed. Ideas and solutions that never would have occurred to us are suddenly possible.

This is why every year we look forward to celebrating International Education Week (IEW). Next week, for the eighth-straight year, Cultural Vistas will celebrate IEW by organizing classroom visits that allow our international exchange participants to share their home cultures and traditions with U.S. youth.

We will bring 19 J-1 international interns and exchange alumni representing nine different countries to present at six public elementary, middle and high schools across New York and Washington D.C. As we prepped our volunteers for the week’s activities, we asked them to choose a word or phrase they associate with international education.

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Successful Refugee Integration Begins at the Local Level

The civil war in Syria and the continued turmoil in the Middle East has resulted in millions of people – families, men, women and children – fleeing their homes. With communities torn apart by war and violence, refugees hope to find a better future in places where they can lead their lives in peace, security and stability.

At the recent Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, hosted by President Obama in partnership with six countries, including Germany, there was a shared understanding that the refugee response must be as global in nature as the crisis itself is. This will support policies, resources and funding for millions of displaced people worldwide.

Many refugees will resettle in both Germany and the United States. Though our national response is important, the ultimate success of the refugee crisis will depend on the integration that takes places in hundreds, if not thousands of local communities throughout the two countries. Once again, we must think globally and act locally to properly address this challenge.

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Cachai? (Did You Catch That?): A Primer on Chilean Slang

You’ve taken years of Spanish. Maybe you even studied in a Spanish-speaking country. You feel prepared to take on the challenge of interning in a second language. And then you arrive in Chile and suddenly you’re not so sure that what you’re hearing can be described as español – especially since they seem to be calling it castellano!

With its slang and strongly accented speakers, Chilean Spanish can be difficult to understand at first. Once you get used to it though, you’ll realize how fun it is to say things the Chilean way.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, Patagonia.
Photo Credit: Douglas Scorteganga

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Making New Friends in Unexpected Places

The people you meet and the relationships you form are often the most lasting and rewarding parts of traveling.

And sometimes, those special bonds and friendships can come from the most unexpected of places.

That’s exactly the takeaway that Ben, one of our Train USA J-1 alumni and a winner of our 2015 contest, learned during his U.S. exchange experience.

ben schindler photo contest
New York City Slow Down, Merit Winner of the 2015 Transformed by Travel Photo Contest

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How to Adjust to a New Semester After Going Abroad

After spending an incredible summer in Beijing, nothing seemed as daunting as a 7,000-mile journey, 40 hours of traveling, 2 flight delays, and a 1:30 AM arrival time.

Except starting a new semester the very next day.

More than a bit frazzled, a million questions buzzed through my head. How could I make sense of my time abroad and express it to my friends and family? How could I cope with this “reverse culture shock” they told me about? And how could I leverage my international experience to become a stronger student, now that I was back on campus?

If, like me, you’re starting to feel anxious about returning to reality, fret not! I’m here to share some tips on how not to feel out of place after going back to school.

University Library and Study Hall
Time to hit the books. Photo Credit: Thomas Rousing

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Exploring the Outdoors with Your Camera

At the end of his internship in Texas, Valentin, a Train USA J-1 alumnus and current Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, decided to explore the canyons and the southwestern United States. He planned a 14-day road trip through southern Utah and northern Arizona, including five national parks.

Most nights were spent camping, often in the back country. On one night, in particular, he set up camp in the back country of Arches National Park and was fortunate enough to witness our very bright galaxy from within. He used his headlamp to light up the inside of his tent as he captured the Milky Way and other stars in the night sky.

Capturing this moment allowed Valentin to net the top prize in our 2015 Transformed by Travel Photo Contest. We recently caught up with him to learn about his U.S. experience and see what advice he could offer this year’s crop of budding photographers.

Desert Milky Way, First Place Winner of the 2015 Transformed by Travel Photo Contest

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Gianluca and Deniz on their CBYX Experience in the United States

You can’t always plan for life’s most meaningful moments.

As Gianluca, a German alumnus of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, puts it: “Don’t forget about the small things in life, like a great sunset. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle of life and forget about the important things. Live in the moment! Put your phone down, leave it at home and go live a little.”

We tend to agree. Recently, we caught up with him and Deniz, a fellow CBYX alum, two of our 2015 Transformed by Travel Photo Contest prize winners, to learn about their U.S. experience and see what advice they could offer this year’s contestants.

gianluca deniz CBYX photo contest
Two CBYX alumni that participated in the Congressional Internship Program were finalists in our 2015 Transformed by Travel Photo Contest.

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