Annual Report 2016
Since 1963, Cultural Vistas has used career exploration to facilitate meaningful connections between Americans and the international community. Our educational and professionally-focused exchanges create more informed, skilled, and engaged citizens and lead toward stronger alliances, increased understanding, and a safer, more prosperous world.
International exchange programs are a proven way to develop leaders–both American and international–and promote shared values that bring our world closer together. A vast majority of our exchange programs (over 90%) are privately funded and advance key foreign policy priorities at virtually no cost to U.S. taxpayers.
Our programs develop competencies demanded in today’s global economy. The 371 Americans who took part in our programs last year represent the most since 1992. We aim to double that number by 2020.
Science and technology, entrepreneurship, environmental stewardship, and leadership development are among our core competencies. More than 60 percent of our programs take place in STEM fields, an area which remains vital to our economy’s future.
Every year, we organize initiatives for public and private sector partners, such as the U.S. Department of State, U.S. embassies, foreign governments, foundations, universities, and companies, around select topics of global importance, such as countering violent extremism, environmental protection, resettlement and integration, STEM education, and women’s empowerment.
At Cultural Vistas, ‘learning-by-doing’ is an essential institutional value. We believe that education is not complete without the opportunity to make connections and apply knowledge in a professional setting.
When this experiential approach involves sustained immersion in another culture and language, the results are often transformative. For more than 50 years, Cultural Vistas has cultivated informed, skilled, empathetic, and engaged citizens and leaders at all levels of society with this belief as the foundation of our work.
After five-plus decades of developing and implementing cultural exchange programs, we have come to understand these benefits extend well beyond any one individual. Exchanges provide our institutions and communities with an unrivaled understanding of other cultures and deep, durable connections. These connections allow for stronger partnerships, economic growth, and sustained dialogue needed to maintain peace and address the complex challenges we continue to face in our increasingly interdependent and complicated world.
Annually, we serve and support over 1,000 businesses and organizations, and close to 6,000 individuals from 130 countries. We are grateful to our many partners, host institutions, friends, and supporters around the world who help us make these meaningful connections possible. It is humbling to work with thousands of students, professionals, educators, policy makers, journalists, governments, and NGOs whose lives and work are touched by our programs. Their stories affirm our mission and are shared throughout these pages.
As we grow, we continue to invest in building new means for intercultural collaboration and shared learning.
Five years ago, we created the Cultural Vistas Fellowship to afford underrepresented U.S. university students the opportunity to advance their career goals, develop global competencies, and experience what life’s like outside the United States for the first time. Since that time, Cultural Vistas has invested $225,000 to send more than 50 students to live and intern for eight weeks in Argentina, Germany, India and Singapore. This summer, we will continue this effort and we are thankful to the many Cultural Vistas Alumni who have joined us in their support of this program.
This past year, we also launched the Cultural Vistas Alumni Network to connect and engage with our growing global community of alumni, and ensure we are equipping them with professional networks they can call upon throughout their careers. Additionally, we continually evaluate the immediate and longitudinal impact of our programs. This ensures we consistently provide the types of opportunities that our participants desire, that our host organizations expect, and that our mission requires.
Our exchange programs transcend borders to unite us all. In our alumni, organizations, and communities they strengthen skills and relationships, while fostering a more inclusive, pluralistic society. We invite you to join us in this journey.
Open this website on a larger screen to view our 2016 stats or click below to download them as a PDF.
Through our Train USA program in 2016, we sponsored J-1 intern and trainee exchanges that engaged nearly 4,500 individuals at different points in their studies and careers, exposing them to the American people, culture, values, and customs.
Papa Oppong has always viewed the world as his canvas. At 23, this native of Accra, Ghana has already taken the African fashion industry by storm. While his illustrations have garnered attention from the likes of celebrities, such as Kelly Rowland, Rihanna, Amber Rose, and stylist Ty Hunter, it’s Papa’s passion to effect change that might just be his most impressive feat. After graduating from Ghana’s Radford University, his journey brought him stateside for a yearlong internship, sponsored by Cultural Vistas, with the DC Fashion Foundation Incubator (DCFI).
While continuing to hone his craft, Papa also begun work on “One Garment, One Child”, a project to prevent the transmission of malaria via a line of children’s wear with special fabric that repels disease-bearing mosquitoes. A malaria survivor himself, Papa plans to create jobs in Ghana by hiring local street vendors to dye the fabric, keeping most aspects of production in the country.
In February, Deniz, Dezire, Anna, Judith, and Gianluca–five German students participating in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals’ Congressional Internship Program (CBYX CIP)–had the unique opportunity to meet and talk shop with Congressman Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania’s 5th District and the co-chair of the German-American Caucus. The quintet, which was selected from a group of 75 German CBYX Fellows studying and interning with U.S. hosts across the country, enjoyed a lengthy and candid conversation, discussing everything from the migration crisis to agricultural policy.
Since 1998-99, over 85 German students have gained experience working in an office of a member of the U.S. Congress through the CBYX CIP program.
In the fall of 2016, 15 Ukrainian journalists spent a week in Berlin to learn about unique aspects of press-government interaction in Germany during a professional study tour arranged by Cultural Vistas’ European Office. Through meetings with journalists, government communications officials, and a visit to the Federal Press Conference, the journalists gained new insights into Germany’s public and private broadcasting systems, dedication to pluralism in the media, and unique tools that establish trust between the media and government officials. Each journalist subsequently published and broadcast articles and reports in their home media on aspects of press-government interaction in Germany.
From climate change and countering extremism to the U.S. election process and taking action for disability inclusion, our 2016 portfolio of International Visitor Leadership Program projects covered a lot of ground.
Over the course of the calendar year, we worked with the State Department and partners across the Global Ties U.S. network to organize 42 short-term visits. This provided a record 292 global experts and leaders from 84 countries with a personal understanding of the United States, how its democracy works, and a diversity of viewpoints on the issues they are working on. For 66% of our IVLP visitors, this was the first time they experienced the United States.
“We have a young democracy in Nigeria and it’s good to see the nuts and bolts of how the system works.”
Year two of the Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program provided a unique professional development opportunity, funded by the Department of State, for 51 young leaders and current Fulbright scholars from 12 countries across Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe. The group of graduate students completed internships across the country, from New York City to Anchorage, Alaska, with companies and institutions such as the United Nations, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Amazon, and Newsweek.
“I was glad to contribute to the community by providing at least one day of positive emotions for children who were new to the country.”
After a summer internship curating digital records for the Smithsonian’s Biodiversity Heritage Library, Nura Agzamova, a native of Kazakhstan and Fulbright scholar studying library science at Syracuse University, gained new confidence in her developing career as an information professional.
“Being a part of the Smithsonian Institution was an unforgettable life experience, which I will proudly carry with me throughout my library career,” said Nura.
Each summer, all Muskie interns give back to their host communities through service projects. We encourage each individual to find an issue that resonates personally with them and to volunteer with local organizations working to address that issue. Yulia Brusova, a Russian native studying music education at the University of Missouri, supported City of Refuge, which serves refugee and immigrant families in the mid-Missouri region.
Both Germany and the United States need ample opportunities to share and learn from one another about the reception and integration of refugees into local communities–both what works well and where challenges remain.
That is the underlying idea that led Cultural Vistas, together with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Welcoming America, to launch the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange (WCTE) in 2016, a professional exchange for integration practitioners and community leaders between United States and Germany.
The inaugural year of WCTE saw 24 Germans and 16 Americans visit each other’s cities to discuss refugee reception and integration best practices, and work towards turning these ideas into concrete efforts that help establish more sustainable and welcoming infrastructures in their respective communities.
The visits, which took place in April (in the U.S.) and September (in Germany), showcased how cities approach integration through a series of site visits and meetings with local governments, resettlement agencies, interfaith groups, local schools and employers, among others.
The conclusion of the 2016 Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange brought all 40 participants together in Berlin for discussions on what they had experienced and learned during the exchange.
Cultural Vistas is honored to support and advance global education through a variety of initiatives. In 2016, its growing Teach USA program brought international teachers to K-12 classrooms in 13 states and Puerto Rico to share their culture and teaching styles with young Americans.
Hailing from Jamaica, France, Philippines, Germany, Ethiopia, Spain, China, Ireland and the Netherlands, these teachers introduce American young people to maps, cultures, food, language, politics, history, and current events of other places they will know better when they grow up (and, when they take their place in the American workforce).
In October, Cultural Vistas welcomed a group of German teachers of American studies and social studies selected and sponsored by the Atlantik-Bruecke Stiftung to the United States to get a ﬁrsthand view of issues important to the American public. Economic revitalization, the state of education, the Presidential campaign, media, and American views on the transatlantic relationship were key topics. However, the trip’s highlights were an honest and passionate discussion on 2nd Amendment rights and American approaches to dealing with an inﬂux of second-language immigrants and refugees to the classroom.
While national governments make headlines debating how to address the movement of refugees across borders, it is the teachers–in both nations–that have to deal with integrating young people into the classroom, and into their respective societies. This visit reminded teachers from both nations that this task is not easy, in most cases not enjoyable, but hopefully rewarding in the long run.
In 2016, Cultural Vistas provided 397 Americans with opportunities to develop these skills and build the capacity to see and analyze global issues from a multitude of perspectives through sustained immersion and professionally-focused exchange programs taking place in 28 different countries.
“I now know that [...] it’s important to really get to know the people, the culture, and what’s going on around you, because that is the only way you can really understand it,” said Lisa Smith, Georgia native who spent the summer interning with Fundação Julita, a foundation serving vulnerable families in São Paulo, as one of 12 U.S. students in the first cohort of Cultural Vistas’ new Internship Program in Brazil.
At a time of increasing need for specialists with Russia expertise, Cultural Vistas was pleased to send the 14th class of Alfa Fellowship Program participants, comprised of 13 exceptional young American, British, and German leaders, to Moscow for an immersive 11-month professional development experience.
Meanwhile, for the 33rd-straight year, the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program, provided a group of 15 emerging U.S. leaders from across the fields of education, law, government, economic policy, and urban planning with the unique opportunity to learn German, gain work experience, and expand their professional networks while becoming personally acquainted with Germany’s political, economic, and social environment.
Kaylon Paterson, an aspiring aerospace engineer and senior mathematics major at Morehouse College in Atlanta, was one of 20 students and three professors from Morehouse and Spelman College comprising Cultural Vistas’ fourth cohort of the STEM LAUNCH tour of Germany, made possible through the generous support of The Halle Foundation.
“We were able to experience a new language and people while being exposed to new career paths and research projects,” Kaylon reflected.
“My experience with the program has inspired me to continue to look for opportunities no matter where they take me.”
The Cultural Vistas Alumni Network (CVAN) hosted and sponsored in-person and online events attended by more than 1,000 current and future alumni in over 15 U.S. cities, as well as in Berlin, Tokyo, Manila, and Seoul.
In September 2016, we celebrated the official launch of CVAN during a special reception and panel featuring three esteemed alumni: Trooper Sanders, a former domestic policy advisor to the White House and 2002-03 Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow; Karoun Demirjian, a Washington Post reporter and a 2014 Alfa Fellow; and Chris Wolz, a 1982 IAESTE alumnus and Forum One President + CEO.
The establishment of the Alumni Council to guide the efforts and activities of the Cultural Vistas Alumni Network marked another 2016 milestone. The council is made up of a dedicated group of alumni volunteers who will serve as ambassadors for and to the organization and will guide our course, leverage our full potential, and help bring our alumni offerings to scale.
“[Successful integration occurs at the local level] when members of a town or city feel that they belong, are secure in their rights and responsibilities, and share ownership in the future of their community.”
Together with the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Cultural Vistas hosted the two day Transatlantic Symposium on Innovative Approaches to Integration in September 2016 to conclude the first year of the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange. Over 150 guests attended this special event, which brought together refugee integration practitioners and public officials from both countries to examine and address key challenges in the areas of community engagement, education policy, job creation and workplace integration, as well as next steps in cooperative efforts from both sides of the Atlantic.
The symposium addressed the topic from both the high-level, national perspective and the local, community perspective, and attendees were all given the opportunity to share examples of best practices from successful integration initiatives in their own communities.
A summary of outcomes from the symposium, as well as clips from the opening reception, panel discussions and interviews can be viewed at culturalvistas.org/wcte.
In today’s world, the competition for talent knows no boundaries. Increasingly employers are seeking synergies between talent mobility and management, using cross-border tools such as exchanges to attract the best and the brightest, develop leadership skills, and retain top performers. On May 12, we hosted a panel discussion featuring experts representing Citigroup, Columbia Business School, IOR Global Services, and AIRINC to discuss just this all-important and evolving topic in New York City.
Travel changes people. It builds empathy and conﬁdence. It transforms perceptions of the world and our role in it. We see it ﬁrsthand every day and every year through our annual photo contest for alumni and participants. In November, more than 65 guests received a glimpse into the transformative experiences our exchange programs offer at a special gallery event highlighting the top 30 entries to our contest and unveiling our grand prize winner, Matthias Gass, a German trainee who won a trip to the nation’s capital for his winning photo, Glowing Santa Barbara. You can view it and all 30 finalists at transformedbytravel.com.
For 15 days, Ansley, Fatimah, Flow, Giddy, Neel, and Sheri traveled to India visiting Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, and New Delhi as part of the Celebrate the Connections U.S.-India Urban Arts Exchange - a teaching, learning, and performance tour, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. We reunited the group in May for an interactive showcase in Washington, D.C., featuring a documentary of their experience, spoken word poetry, hip hop dance performances, and visual art–all inspired by their overseas experiences.
After Yunhee Jung’s presentation about traditional Korean dishes to a fourth grade class at P.S. 72 Lexington Academy in East Harlem, a room full of NYC youngsters found themselves clamoring for a taste of some bibimbap. Yunhee, one of 133 South Korean scholars who took part in our Korea WEST program in 2016, was among a group of 19 participants and alumni volunteers to share their home cultures during special presentations to public elementary, middle, and high schools across New York and Washington, D.C. organized by Cultural Vistas staff during November’s International Education Week.
In partnership with the American Council on Germany, Cultural Vistas hosted several political salons out of its New York office over the course of 2016. The series brought together younger and mid-career professionals for open and intimate discussions on a range of current political, economic, and social topics–with an emphasis on issues of concern for the transatlantic agenda. Talks focused on everything from startups and innovation in the United States and Germany and internet regulation policy in Europe to immigration policy and the rise of populism in both countries and how to address it.
With an estimated 20.9 million victims of trafficking around the world, human trafficking has become a scourge that requires concerted local and international cooperation. In March, we hosted a panel together with The McCain Institute for International Leadership that featured three leading human rights activists, and alumni of Cultural Vistas programs: Hafiz Rehmatullah (IVLP, 2015), Danielle Johnson (Alfa Fellowship Program, 2013-14), and Andrew Bogrand (Alfa Fellowship Program, 2014-15) to share insight on global trends and emerging solutions to human trafficking, while discussing how international experience has and can continue to help facilitate better information sharing and collaboration.
Every year, Cultural Vistas provides in-person opportunities for our participants and alumni alike to connect, network, and experience the complexity of American culture with those who’ve shared similar experiences.
Volunteering at the New York City Marathon
On the first Sunday in November, our staff and more than 20 J-1 international exchange visitors volunteered at rest and water stops along the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon course. With over 1,000 total volunteers, exchange participants made up 10% of all those who volunteered.
Sports are as close as you can come to a national dialect in the United States. That’s why we always love organizing outings for our international visitors. From baseball at Boston’s iconic Fenway Park to NBA hoops in downtown Brooklyn, our interns and trainees experienced some of America’s favorite pastimes.
As part of J Day, a nationwide celebration of the value of international exchange every August, we hosted volunteer events at Bread for the City in Washington, D.C. and at the Riverside Park Conservancy in New York City. The celebration brought together more than 30 people representing 12 different countries to “eat, play, and give”—to share cultural diversity and American customs, to give back to their communities, and, of course, to have some fun while they were at it.
Twilight Kayaking Tour
A stay in Washington, D.C. is not complete without visiting the many monuments and memorials throughout the capitol. As 15 of our exchange interns learned, a twilight kayaking tour is one of the best and most unique ways to see all the sights.
By Dan Ewert, VP for Program Research, Partnerships, + Innovation, Cultural Vistas
I climbed aboard the USS Enterprise as a child living in Singapore, when the ship and its crew refueled in the newly-independent nation’s outer harbor before heading back to support the conflict in Vietnam. I had ‘a clue’ about the conflict because my parents insisted on making sure my older siblings and I were aware of our surroundings, and, well, Southeast Asia was a theater of warfare. Now, this region–the ASEAN region–is locked in a tug-of-war between China and the United States, both nations seeking to win the hearts and pocketbooks of its 625 million inhabitants, the majority of whom are under the age of 30 years old.
More than 90% of my 200-plus LinkedIn and Facebook contacts in this region are also under the age of 30. They are a part of a rising generation of the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) initiated by the U.S. Department of State in November 2013. To apply an overused exclamation, these young people are awesome. That is, if you consider people under the age of 25 whose second jobs are to establish nonprofits to educate kids on deforestation, or to help bring together a cross-section of people to create a think-tank whose purpose is to identify solutions to community-wide social problems awesome.
Or, those who take a year of their life off to explore the roots of their culture and transform the lessons learned into lesson plans for primary school students. Or, those who have chosen to put their energy into assisting fishermen transform into ocean stewards, and educate farmers on a 21st century scheme of multi-cropping with fields of solar panels.
The success of YSEALI is that it has engaged this energetic and educated group of young people, and has plugged them into a network of their peers, and a network of peers from the United States. Cultural Vistas has been privileged to be selected to implement four YSEALI projects–Generation EARTH Workshop in Cambodia, Generation Oceans Workshop in Indonesia, the Generation Go NGO Workshop in Philippines, and implementation of the YSEALI Seeds for the Future Small Grants Program.
We take seriously not only the effort to address YSEALI’s four themes (civic engagement, environment and natural resources, entrepreneurship and economic development, and education), and to create learning opportunities for the members, but also to facilitate the development of an “ASEAN identity” among these future leaders of the 10 member nations.
Check out videos of our four YSEALI projects:
Want to meet a couple of them? How about Nashrudin Kusain, whose passion for environmental justice plays out in his work with ADAT-BETAD, Inc. in Mindanao, Philippines. In a nation under increasing attack by powerful typhoons growing out of warmer Pacific Ocean waters, Nash lives and works in a conflict zone and cares to train young people in sustainable development practices, organic farming, and basic renewable energy technologies. He is helping to create an Eco-Army to mitigate the effects of rising seas his local community is battling.
On the other side of the ASEAN region, Aung Mon Myat is working to raise awareness about unsustainable environmental practices involving waste disposal in Yangon, Myanmar. Not only is he organizing clean-up projects in the capital city, his activities asks these volunteers to conjure up innovative ways to build a sustained personal responsible approach to managing trash and waste.
His example is indicative of the plight of many cities in the ASEAN region–concern for quick economic growth before development of infrastructure that could manage that growth in a sustainable way. Like many in his generation–the YSEALI generation–he understands it is the people who must work together to foster a better physical environment for themselves.
These activities build upon Cultural Vistas’ involvement in the region, which also began in earnest in 2013, with the implementation of the first of two ‘classes’ of the American Youth Leadership Program, programs sponsored by the U.S. State Department. And, where are some of these young people now?
Meet Jamie Withorne, a sophomore in political science and government at Columbia University in New York. Following up on working with refugees at Lutheran Social Services in her home state of South Dakota, Jamie has already completed internships with the International Refugee Assistance Project and the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., and studied for a semester in Copenhagen. In summer 2017, Cultural Vistas has arranged an internship in Vietnam for Jamie.
And, meet Kirsten Brodeen, currently studying international business and management at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Kirsten doesn’t follow trends, she helps to create them. After graduating high school in Colorado, she organized her own gap year in Germany. She was selected to be an intern for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, but could not accept it because she wasn’t an enrolled student. Oh well, she was able to arrange an internship for herself at Commerzbank AG in Berlin. Not bad for a 19-year old high school graduate. Kirsten is offering volunteer support to a winner of the 2016 YSEALI Seeds for the Future program.
Or, follow Yousef Rahman, a Levine Scholar studying civil engineering at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte. He has completed internships at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the U.S. Green Building Council, but it was his activist bent that helped lead Cultural Vistas to select Yousef to be a Youth Mentor at the YSEALI Oceans Workshop in Indonesia.
Why should the United States care about Southeast Asia? If you believe the 21st century is to be Asia’s century, the United States needs to carefully foster good relations in the region sandwiched between China and India. Or, if you believe the United States is more than capable of maintaining its cultural and economic influence worldwide, it cannot ignore this region of 625 million consumers.
Why does Cultural Vistas care about this region? Exchanges are means to grow strong, mutually-beneficial relationships between peoples in different regions. Each region has expertise, passion, innovation, insight, and hospitality to share with other. We want to make this happen for as many as possible!
The hosting experience takes many forms. It encompasses everything from opening your home for a family meal to sharing best practices and local customs to a new colleague. But all forms share a common tenet: the importance of hospitality. It is what makes a visitor feel welcome in a new environment, and it is integral part of all that we do.
At Cultural Vistas, not only do we work with many generous host families that share their homes with exchange students, we also partner with more than 1,500 businesses, NGOs, and academic institutions every year that teach, train, and network with thousands of international visitors at varying stages of their studies and careers.
In addition to sponsoring intern, trainee, and teacher exchanges through the J-1 Visa, every year Cultural Vistas hosts international interns itself at each of our office locations. In 2016, this tradition continued as we welcomed Christon, Monika, and Rafael, respectively from Mumbai, Berlin, and São Paulo, to learn alongside our New York and Washington, D.C. staff and make meaningful contributions to our daily work.
Some people who study abroad grow to consider their host families an extension of their own. For Tammy Cross, who has lost both of her parents as well as her brother, she considers her host family from 30 years ago the only family she has left.
Tammy spent her 1986-87 college year in Stuttgart with a German couple and their 10, 14, and 16-year-old daughters. They included her on skiing trips in the German Alps and Christmas with the extended family on their dairy farm. “They welcomed me and made me very much a part of not only their immediate family, but their extended family as well,” she said.
30 years later, Tammy still exchanges emails with her host family about once a month. She’s been back numerous times and her family has visited Tennessee. The hosting experience has even had an effect on a second generation, as Tammy’s children have met her host sisters’ children. Her two sons, after hearing Tammy talk about her exchange experience for years, both opted to spend a semester abroad themselves.
Unfortunately, Tammy’s host father Hans passed away this December. “I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this year,” said Tammy. “I have been truly blessed to have been a part of their ‘family’.”
Annette Kornell’s children grew up surrounded by people from all over the globe. Though they lived outside of Madison, Wisconsin, her family has hosted students from everywhere from France to Mexico to the Middle East. Since both of her parents were immigrants, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
But after her husband passed away, Annette was a bit gun-shy about letting someone new into her home. Then she saw Julian’s application to spend the year living with her through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals.
“His funny personality just came through in the letter,” she said. Julian had included a picture of him with his friends, all donned in t-shirts with pictures from the movie Anchorman. All of her children love that movie, too. It seemed like Julian would be a good fit. And he was. Julian spent the year bonding with Annette and her three children.
Whenever Annette welcomes a student into her home, her goal is to treat him or her like family, with the same expectations. She likes exchange students to get to know locals in “normal situations.” That’s why she included Julian in everything from a trip to Wisconsin Dells to a neighborhood party.
“The more you’re exposed to something, the more you can come to accept and even appreciate it,” Annette said of the hosting experience. She pointed to a study that says young children have to try a new food 10 times before they accept it.
“It applies to different lifestyles or different cultures or anything,” she said. “When it’s something we’re not familiar with, maybe we think it’s weird of different or wrong. But when we get to know a person…it builds understanding.”
Perhaps none of our programs capture the essence of the term “exchange” quite as well as IAESTE, or the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experiences.
Since 1948, IAESTE has proven to be a win-win for both students and hosts alike–both in the United States and around the world. As the U.S. affiliate of this longstanding reciprocal program, Cultural Vistas provided 50 American engineering students with paid, course-related training in 22 countries in 2016, while matching 68 international students with U.S. organizations for short and long-term projects all across the United States.
Velina Rusjakova, a computer science and engineering major from Macedonia who completed an internship with Purplegator (then-ATS Mobile), a digital agency headquartered in King of Prussia, Pa., was one such student.
“This internship surpassed all my expectations. My work and contribution were highly valued and rewarded, and the practice I’ve gained will be helpful in every aspect of my future career. Not only was I welcomed open-heartedly by my coworkers, they have become my family and close friends,” said Velina.
The 10-month internship experience proved to be mutually beneficial to the team at Purplegator, according to Michael Candelori, Velina’s supervisor.
“I think that every [host company] can benefit from the perspective of an IAESTE intern, who can not only bring elements of his or her unique culture, but novel skill sets and approaches to problem solving that introduce a different dynamic into the work done each day,” said Michael. “The experience was rewarding not only for the business but also for each employee that interacted with Velina on a daily basis.”
Abe Kabakoff, the head pilot brewer at Sierra Nevada, decided to go into the beer industry after interning at a German brewery with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. “I don’t think I’d be in the brewing business if I hadn’t done that program,” said Abe, who was initially interested in a computer science career.
This year, Abe’s experience abroad came full circle when he hosted a German intern, Marius Hartman, at the Chico, California-based brewery. The exchange proved beneficial for both parties.
For Marius, he got experience in the experimental American craft beer scene, which greatly differs from the traditionalist German one. In his come country, only water, malt, hops, and yeast are used to make beer. And Sierra Nevada benefitted from Marius’s knowledge of German techniques, as they frequently prefer to stick to traditional ingredients.
“There’s no place you can gain more experience in 5 months than here at Sierra Nevada,” Marius said of his time interning in the United States.
By enabling students, teachers, researchers, scholars, and skilled professionals to experience the U.S. firsthand–and by allowing Americans to experience life through the lens of other countries in the same way–educational and cultural exchanges play an indispensable role in fostering better understanding and strengthening international ties.
Every year, the U.S. Department of State’s J-1 Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) engages over 300,000 current and future leaders from around the world, positively advancing America’s image overseas, and advances key foreign policy goals–all at virtually no cost to taxpayers. The vast majority of programs are privately funded.
The J-1 Visa program in its current form encompasses 15 different private and public subcategories that provide short-term cultural, educational, and professional exchange opportunities to international visitors, ranging from a few weeks to several years. Of these categories, Cultural Vistas is a designated program sponsor for Intern, Teacher, and Trainee exchanges, through which it works with private sector partners to bring 5,000 international students and professionals to the U.S. annually.
As is the case with many visa categories, the EVP was created by a congressional act and the visa is simply a mechanism to carry out its objective. The program was the result of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961) and is rooted in the principles of respect and acceptance for a diversity of cultures and faiths that our nation was founded on. In part, the Act states: “The purpose… is to enable the Government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange…to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and the other countries of the world.”
As the world grows rapidly, the complexity of the global challenges it faces increase every day. Effective solutions will require a diversity of perspectives, resources, and relationships - all of which are made possible through J-1 educational and cultural exchanges.
“The United States is the most democratic and open-minded society I have ever experienced. Human rights are highly protected and valued, which is one of the most positive impressions I will leave this country with.”
By Drew Shonka, CBYX Inaugural Member
1984, a year usually associated with the dystopian novel of the same name, was anything but dystopian for 48 American college students.
It was the year Steve Jobs rolled out the first Macintosh computer, a box-like machine that had no memory built in. Total sales for cell phones were 7,000, up from 0 in 1983. Ghostbusters, starring Bill Murray, was the top grossing film. As a duet, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson topped the pop charts, as did a man from my home state of Minnesota, Prince. Ronald Reagan was reelected, and the Winter Olympics were held in Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists.
My 47 “classmates” and I were the pilot participants in a new program, the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals.
Young and idealistic, we were wide open to what would come from the program that had chosen us, which had promised us each a year of school, work, family life, and adventure in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. The BRD, also known as West Germany.
Our language lessons and home stays began with the gaffes that mark a visitor’s introduction to a new country. Later we’d swap stories with CBYX friends, or write home (there was no email, and phone calls cost $3/minute). As when I asked my friend’s mother if I might use the bathroom. I knew every word I needed except the verb use. She waited patiently while I checked my Deutsch-Englisch dictionary. I found two possibilities, benutzen and verwenden, and chose verwenden. The woman laughed heartily, as I asked her if I could have the toilet and take it with me. Marcia, from Pennsylvania, arrived at her host family’s home on her first day, and the first thing they asked was if she’d like to dusch herself. And on it went for us all.
For our first two months, our group was situated in the idyllic town of Radolfzell am Bodensee, in the fruit belt of Southern Germany. In this place, we took intensive language instruction at the Carl Duisberg Zentrum. My home stay there was with a first generation Polish family, the Kalkowskis. Maria, known to us as Frau K., led my roommate Joel and me on a day-long walk deep into a forest. We went in with a basket of sandwiches and came back with piles of wild mushrooms. On our return, we crossed a long pasture where sheep were being herded by a man in a long black cape, wearing a wide-brim hat, and marking his steps with a seven-foot shepherd’s crook. Joel and I wondered if we landed in a different century as well as on another continent.
After Radolfzell, we all went our ways to our own cities and homestays. I spent the rest of my year in Amberg, in Northern Bavaria, where I attended the Fachoberschule and lived with the Wießner family. Edgar and Maria, my hosts, had one child, Jürg, who was in Ohio on the same program. They doted on me in a way I never before experienced. I spent the rest of the year in München, where I worked my internship at the luxurious Hilton, supervising kitchen staff. The personnel there hailed from 40 different countries, but of the 600 workers, I was the only American.
Most weekends were devoted to adventure, spurred on by a very strong dollar. Friends and I dressed in jacket and ties, blouses and skirts, and hitchhiked from Lake Constance to Zürich, where we heard the orchestra perform at the Tonhalle. Dressed as we were, we had no trouble getting rides. Train passes were a good deal, yet for fewer Deutschmarks than a one-way ticket to Stuttgart, you could buy a used bicycle, fill your backpack with cheese, bread, and beer, and pedal to Salzburg, staying at youth hostels along the way.
This was a common pattern for the first year CBYXers: total immersion in our spread-out villages, at our homestays and in our schools and internships. With our limited language skills, some isolation and loneliness were inevitable. Some weekends we stayed put and pushed through. Other weekends we rode the trains to one another’s cities, finding comfort in English, and American familiarity.
For our mid-year meeting, we traveled to Berlin. Berlin had the Kurfürstendamm, Europe’s Broadway, a flash point of trendy clubs, avante-garde design, and haute commerce that stood in contrast to the carefully propped and bland economy on the other side of the Wall.
Our group took a three-hour tour of the East, but it was barely a taste. We spent the first hour just getting in — “Ausweiskontrolle” (passport check). Once through the checkpoint, we gawked and were gawked at. They clearly found us strange. We looked back at them in similar wonder — are they free at all? Are they happy? If we wanted to talk to them, would they want to talk to us too? Or are they so supervised that it’s impossible?
After our return to the United States, my friend Cary would earn her Ph.D. in German and become a professor. John from Detroit, with BMW robotics on his resumé, would become a highly sought-after engineer here. Harmon became a successful financial advisor. He still goes back to Germany and visits his host family, and they visit him in California. I graduated college, and have enjoyed successive careers as a social worker, teacher, and photographer. As a teacher, I incorporated German into every part of my curriculum, from grades one through twelve.
Our group has lost each other, for the most part. We didn’t have the internet to stay connected, and now many names are hard to find online. We all have the memories and experiences of CBYX Year One. None of us will ever forget the day we met and our flight from Newark to Brussels. Our pilot flew through a thunderhead, and the plane was struck by lightning. Fortunately, it was not an omen for the year to come. Year One of the CBYX was a great success for us all, and it continues to this day.
“The picture was taken in Larung Gar, an tibetian area in Sichuan, China. In Larung Gar there is the biggest buddhism school of the world and more than 10,000 monchs are living in tiny, simple houses. This place was the most impressive one I have ever seen in my life.”
“When I pressed the shutter button on my camera, I didn’t know that this photo would become one of the deepest memories I took back home with me. A few hours after I captured this moment, I accidentally met this lady again. While talking to her about our road trip and our career plans, she impressed me by radiating an enormous amount of positive energy. Her positive attitude as well as her faith in love and the true good of the human person inspired and still fascinates me. Experiences like meeting positive and loving people like her is what makes it unique going abroad to become a ‘global citizen’ in today's interconnected world.”
“During my internship in the Bay Area I enjoyed cycling around in San Francisco a lot. One day I went all the way to Baker Beach and got lucky that the Golden Gate bridge was not hiding in fog. After the sun has set I took this long exposure picture, shortly thereafter a strong wave hit the rocks and both my gear and myself had a salty shower. But after glancing over the footage at home I realized it was totally worth it.”
“Climbing the 2674 meter summit of Mt. Talomo in the rainforest of Mindanao was one of the most breathtaking trails I have ever come across in my life. Just being surrounded by towering trees covered in green and yellowish moss, under the canopies of giant puffy leaves as the light glimpses through the covers was an experience one can not fathom to explain. Walking through this trail made us feel like we were one with everything that nature has gifted us with, and traveling through wonders like these made us appreciate the world one tree at a time.”
“This picture was taken in the beginning weeks of my internship, and months later, still captures my feelings about this intense, wonderful, and surprising city.”
“In June of 2016, my friend and I went on an impromptu trip to Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park to photograph the Milky Way. After driving four hours in the dark and surviving a close call with a pedestrian moose, we spent all night stargazing and only got some sleep well after sunrise. In this photo, I used a remote timer to photograph the two of us looking out over one of Algonquin's many lakes.”
“Even at the age of 73 this old man is still looking for his perfect shot, restlessly walking miles, observing the beauty around him.”
Less than 10 percent of American students graduate with an international experience, such as studying or interning abroad. Even fewer are members of minority communities or first-generation students. Five years ago, we established the Cultural Vistas Fellowship to remove cost as an obstacle and provide these invaluable learning opportunities to more students from groups that have historically been underrepresented in international programs.
Since that time, Cultural Vistas has reinvested $225,000 directly from its own organizational revenue to fund eight-week internship and immersion experiences in Argentina, Germany, India, and Singapore for more than 50 American students from 43 different universities and colleges across the United States.
“Living in India has pushed me to embrace uncomfortable situations and to become more self-reliant at home,” said Cynthia Rann, an Albright College junior who interned with Habitat for Humanity in Bangalore as a Cultural Vistas Fellow in 2016. Her time there reinforced her passion for helping others. “I feel inspired more than ever before and I am certain that I want to dedicate my career to improving economic development and standards of living globally.”
This summer, we continue this vitally important initiative, together with the financial support of several generous alumni, as our fifth class of Cultural Vistas Fellows will test drive future career paths while experiencing what daily life is like in another country for the very first time.
As a mission-driven nonprofit, Cultural Vistas is steadfast in its commitment to fiscal responsibility. We continuously strive to keep administrative costs associated with the operation of our organization within reasonable limits in order to devote the majority of our resources toward those we serve.
“Giving to Cultural Vistas is a small way to give back and ensure students and young professionals benefit from all of the advantages that come with studying and working abroad.”