Cultural Vistas Blog

2023 Bridge to Access Benefit gathers 250 supporters in Washington, D.C.

Cultural Vistas’ CEO Jennifer Clinton gives a speech to begin the 2023 Bridge to Access Benefit

On November 8th, 2023 Cultural Vistas invited partners, alumni, friends, and community members to the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. to discuss the organization’s impact on individuals and communities both over the past 60 years and in plans for future programming and outreach.

Bridge to Access: Connect with Rwanda

At this event, Cultural Vistas raised funds for its newest program: Connect with Rwanda. The program allows HBCU students the chance to visit Rwanda, engage with their international peers, and gain cross-cultural leadership expertise. The event featured a speech by one of the program alumni, Ekundayo Bandele, who described the program as life changing. The Connect with Rwanda premiere video details the impact the participants experienced and highlights why programs that break down barriers to access are crucial to building the world’s next generation of culturally competent leaders.

The Cultural Vistas community lent its heart out to the new program and donated $28,000 on the night of the event. Donations from the night were counted toward a $50,000 match challenge from the Cyril Taylor Foundation. Donations like these allow Cultural Vistas to continue to financially aide participants and enable international learning.

2023 Distinguished Alumni Leader: Srishti Bakshi

The event also took the time to award Srishti Bakshi with the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Leadership award. Since attending three of the Cultural Vista’s Techcamps, Srishti has been a driving force in driving gender equality and women’s technological literacy in India, having had taken a billion steps from the southern tip of India to its northern most city. During her trek, she interacted with women and discussed barriers and solutions to gender equality. She created the organization Women of my Billion (W.O.M.B.) as a result of her journey. Because of this effort and other steps, she continues to take to change the international landscape, she was a wonderful candidate for the award. The award was presented by fellow alumna, Sumi Somaskanda, who attended the Robert Bosch Fellowship and now is a chief presenter for the BBC.

Cultural Vistas’ 2023 Distinguished Alumni Leader Srishti Bakshi during her keynote discussion with BBC Chief Presenter Sumi Somaskanda

2023 Global Partner Leadership Award: BAL

Additionally, the 2023 Global Partner Leadership Award was awarded to BAL, an immigration law firm located in Washington, D.C. The firm has repeatedly facilitated the process that allows our participants across borders and experience new styles of work and living. For their continued work with our J-1 Visa team, we thank them for their commitment to diversifying participant experiences and helping to foster the Cultural Vistas mission.

Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange 40th Anniversary

As Cultural Vistas looked forward to how the organization can affect more participants, the organization also took the time to honor the past. The organization’s longest running program, Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, had reached its 40th anniversary. The program allows German and American citizens to engage in a year-long exchange through the U.S. Department of State and the German Bundestag. This exchange allows participants to experience life, school, and work in the partner country and develops more culturally conscious individuals. To honor this occasion, hosts of the program were awarded, many alumni attended the event, and a member of both the inaugural cohort and the Cultural Vistas Board of Directors, Harmon Kong, spoke about the program’s impact both in Germany and the United States.

Members of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals from an array of cohorts gathered to celebrate the program’s 40th anniversary.

Cultural Vistas extends its thanks to all of the speakers, award recipients, donors, and guests from the night. The benefit was meant to highlight Cultural Vistas’ accomplished past and its bright future. Thanks to our strong community, both were honored. Together, we can make intercultural experiences more accessible to everyone.

Jamauri Tackles the German Workplace

Here I am at the German Bundestag in Berlin! One of the bastions of democracy in Germany.

Hi everyone! My name is Jamauri Bryan. I am currently a member of the 38th cohort of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, an international fellowship funded by the German Bundestag and the United States Department of State.

This is my third and final blog post talking about my experience during the program. If you haven’t already read my introductory post or my post about university life, feel free to check them both out! This post will be focused on the internship phase and what it’s like to work in Germany.

Technology makes the world go ‘round!

During Corona Times, it’s not uncommon for churches to offer live stream services!

Finding an internship is quite difficult no matter where you are, and Germany was no exception. As my university semester slowly concluded, I struggled to find an internship for the 3rd phase of the program. After sending out multiple applications and receiving an equal number of rejections, I decided to change my strategy. After a bit of networking with some friends, I was finally landed a position as a Media & IT intern at the Evangelical Free Church (EFC) in Cologne, Ostheim.

Going into my internship, I was bit nervous since I would be working completely in German. I was at B1 level overall and most of my experience revolved around casual and academic settings. I was very fortunate to have co-workers and a supervisor who were willing to work with me as a non-native speaker. If I had questions about my tasks or I didn’t understand what was being said, I was welcome to ask questions.

An average day at EFC typically started with a team meeting between my supervisor and the rest of the leadership. Afterwards, my work varied depending on the immediate needs of the church. Some days, I worked at a camera to livestream services and other activities online. Other days, I spent updating an inventory of all the electronic devices that EFC owned. Perhaps the most interesting project that I worked on was a video shoot for a community development project in Russia. A Russian-German couple partnered with a community organization here in Germany and worked with EFC to spread awareness about an orphanage they supported in southern Russia.

A typical day in the office! Sometimes as technician, it’s necessary to get your hands on all sorts of equipment!

Aside from my internship, I also worked part-time as a Production Assistant at ESL Gaming, an international Esports company headquartered in Cologne. Working part-time, otherwise known as a “mini-job” here in Germany, is a good way for students to earn a bit of pocket money. ESL is known for organizing and hosting video game competitions such as the popular Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) that’s held in Cologne every year. As a Production Assistant, I archive photos and videos from ESL events to make them accessible to stakeholders later. For instance, if some from the ESL Marketing Team needed a certain picture or file from IEM, it was my job to consult the archive and provide this data in a timely manner.

ESL is a truly international company. Here you’ll find employees from not only Europe but also the USA, Malaysia, Japan, and more!

“Feierabend” and “Feiertag” Culture

Myself, some other program participants, and friends enjoying a typical German meal: Schnitzel!

Feierabend or “quitting time” as we would express in the United States is the time that comes directly after someone finishes their working day. While hard work and efficiency are highly valued in the German workplace, leisure time is equally important for many people.

After a working day, it was quite typical for me to meet friends and head to a café. This was different from my American professional life where I would typically head home directly after work. For me, I found it refreshing that both my supervisors and co-workers actively encouraged me to make use of my time after work. Some of them even gave me suggestions on bars or restaurants that they frequented themselves!

Weekend trips were not uncommon once the weather got warmer! This picture is from a day trip that I had in Trier with friends!

Feiertage or “holidays” were also a prominent part of the work culture in Germany. As the winter turned into spring and the weather became warmer, it was common for my co-workers to make use of the holidays or days where ordinary business would be suspended. During the week leading up to Easter, it wasn’t unusual for schools and businesses to close early.

Closing Words and Recognitions

As I look back on my year with CBYX, I’m certain that Germany will always hold a special place in my heart!

Thank you to everyone who has followed along on my journey in Germany through these blogs! I specifically want to acknowledge Cultural Vistas, the United States Department of State, and the German Bundestag for the funding and consistent operation of the program during the COVID-19 pandemic. To all the friends, host families, and mentors that I’ve met this year, I thank you for the kindness and hospitality that you’ve shown me throughout this transformative exchange year.

No matter where I go from here, Germany will always hold a special piece of my heart and I encourage everyone reading this to go out and experience the country for yourselves! Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen!   

Kölsch and a side of Bratwurst! Adventures of a PPPler in Cologne!

Hey zusammen! I’m Jamauri. I am currently a member of the 38th cohort of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, an international fellowship funded by the German Bundestag and the US. Department of State.

This is my second time talking about my experience during the program. If you haven’t already read my introductory post, feel free to check it out here! This post will be focused on my life during the study phase of the program in Cologne.

The life of a university student in Germany

Ice skating rinks are popular in the winter! This was my first-time skating on ice!

After finishing up my language school phase at the end of September, I packed my bags and moved from Saarbrücken to my final placement, Cologne. Cologne is the 4th largest city in Germany and is situated in the north in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. For my university phase, I enrolled as a guest student studying Information Systems at the University of Cologne, one of the largest public universities in Germany.

Studying in Germany is fairly cheap. Most universities do not charge tuition fees and students are only required to pay a semester contribution that covers certain fees such as travel passes and student unions, and other administrative costs. One of the biggest differences that I noticed between universities in Germany and the US is there is a lot less “hand-holding” in Germany. Whereas it’s common for US Students to meet regularly with an advisor to map out their degree requirements, it’s quite the opposite in Germany. German students do have access to advisors within their departments, but the responsibility of planning courses and graduation requirements generally falls on the student themselves. Outside of supporting academics, universities in Germany generally do not provide oversight over student organizations, housing or other aspects of student affairs that are typical in the US.

This is a prototype that my team and I made for our class. A Podcast for the University of Cologne!

This semester, I took four courses in total. Two courses in English and two in German. My most interesting class was a course in English focused on Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a non-linear method that allows a team to understand potential users, reimagine problems, and create innovative solutions. During the semester, I was placed on a team with four other international students from Sweden, Taiwan, and Hungary. Our conclusive result at the end of the course was an outline for a university podcast hosted by the International Student Office at the University of Cologne.  The origin of the podcast came from a question posed at the beginning of the course: How might we ease the transition to a new country, culture, and university for exchange students to ensure that they are able to make the most out of the opportunity? After combing through our networks and interviewing our international peers, we concluded that a podcast would be a modern way to pass on relevant information to incoming exchange/international students.

Finding Community

If you read my last blog post, you’ll recognize the meal shown in this photo: Raclette! This type of meal is popular in Germany.

Upon moving to Cologne, I also moved in with my new host family. My host parents, a retired couple in their 60s, welcomed me with open arms. Prior to retirement, both worked as German teachers at the local Gymnasium. They both have been instrumental in my German learning journey. We eat breakfast together every morning and even find the time to have Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake).

One of my most rewarding experiences has been attending a church here in Cologne. I joined the church’s youth group which consists of students, young professionals, and other young adults from the Cologne area. It was a bit daunting at first because everything was conducted in German, but it was incredibly important to my immersion experience.

Here you can see two friends and I sitting in the Active Zone. It’s a great place to study or relax when you have free time.

The CBYX program requires participants to complete forty hours of volunteer work at a local organization. To complete my requirement, I volunteered at Active Zone, a local café and youth center that’s funded by the Evangelical Free Church in Cologne Ostheim. Every Friday, the café opens its doors to homeless residents in Cologne. These residents are free to dine and relax all free of charge each week.

A Florida Man Experiences the Holidays in Deutschland!

Glühwein is a popular drink that you can find at Christmas markets in the winter!

Christmas is a big deal in Germany! Every year, millions of people flock to Christmas markets to buy gifts, drink Glühwein and relax in preparation for the holidays. Christmas, or Heiligabend, as it’s known in Germany is traditionally celebrated by most families on December 24th. On Heiligabend, I cooked potatoes and beef and with my host family, and we exchanged all sorts of gifts. I even got to try my hand at baking Christmas cookies!

On New Year’s Eve, I headed to a friend’s apartment, and we watched the fireworks from the balcony as we ushered in the New Year.

Frohes Neues Jahr! Do you have any new year resolutions?

To say, I’ve been busy would be an understatement. Every day is something new here in Deutschland. That’s all from me now. Next time, I’ll be talking more about the next phase: The Internship phase!

Jamauri Takes On Deutschland!

My first day in Deutschland!

Hi everyone! My name is Jamauri Bryan. I am currently a member of the 38th cohort of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (or CBYX for short!) I am originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Family, Youth, & Community Sciences. I had never been to Germany or studied German before CBYX, but I became interested in the country back in 2019.

During my senior year of college, I became good friends with a German exchange student from Aachen. Towards the end of the semester, he encouraged me to consider visiting Germany in the future. Shortly after, I found out about CBYX after searching for international fellowships online. As a first-generation and low-income college student, I initially did not think I had the credentials or the experience to participate in a program like CBYX. However, with a bit of encouragement from my family and friends, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, after all!

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting after interviewing, I finally got my acceptance email! To this day, I thank God for allowing me to be in such an amazing country!

Go Gators! Friendship has no borders!

Becoming a Young Ambassador in Saarbrücken

In normal circumstances, CBYX cohorts meet in DC for orientation. However, due to Covid, the 38th cohort of CBYX had a virtual orientation, and we all met in DC several hours before heading to Germany. As young ambassadors, we are increasingly reminded of what it meant to represent the US and how our identities might shape our experiences abroad.

The Saarbrooklyn peeps!

During the first two months of the program, I spent my time with 12 other CBYXers in Saarbrücken, the capital city of Saarland state. From 8:30 AM – 2:00 PM, we were enrolled in intensive German language courses to prepare us for life in Deutschland for the next year.

Weekends are for the boys in Germany.

I think that that Saarbrücken was a great introduction to Germany as a whole. It’s a bit larger than a village but smaller than a larger city such as Stuttgart. My host family has lived in Saarland for most of their lives, and it was really fascinating to hear how much Saarland has changed since Germany’s reunification.

The greatest thing about being in Saarbrücken were some of the people I met. Students, young professionals, retirees, and many more! Some of the German students that I have met are very knowledgeable about global events, and we spent hours talking about the similarities between Germany and the United States.

Onward to Cologne!

Raclette night for the German election!

After spending two months here already, I found it hard to say goodbye to Saarbrücken. During the last week, my classmates and I were treated to a German/Swiss Raclette Dinner by one of the host families. It was a great way to wrap up our experience in Saarbrücken.

Moving forward, I am excited to live with a host family and experience life in a big city like Cologne. I will be attending the University of Cologne and taking classes in Information Systems. Armed with my German knowledge, I am ready to continue my adventures in the North Rhine-Westphalia region!

Cultural Vistas Completes Virtual IVLP Alumni Pilot for U.S. Classrooms

We experienced firsthand that learning and broadening horizons do not stop even as the summer months arrive.

Earlier this year, Cultural Vistas worked with its partners in the Office of International Visitors at the U.S. Department of State on a unique opportunity to virtually connect alumni from the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to U.S. students aged between twelve and twenty-four years old. The “IVLP in the Classroom” pilot program offered IVLP alumni a chance to connect with American youth and share their knowledge and experience on a broad range of topics, including language and culture, the environment, diplomacy, and international leadership, and LGBTQ issues.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of cultural affairs officers at numerous U.S. Embassies, we collected more than 100 alumni as candidates. Then, in collaboration with our colleagues in the Global Ties U.S. network, we identified a varied group of schools and extracurricular programs to engage with for this unique learning opportunity.

We quickly learned how broad the term “classroom” is and the critical role technology plays in helping students stay connected to learning opportunities. From our first session on June 10th in Charleston, South Carolina, to our final session in Boston, Massachusetts, our alumni “visited” young Americans who attended both traditional schools and non-traditional extracurricular programs. They also interacted with students who were either in person or attending virtually.

The primary format of each session included opening remarks from alumni about their country, their lives, and their work. Each virtual engagement evolved based on the type and location of the institution and the students’ personal and academic interests.

In Arizona, 2011 IVLP alum and art curator for the Costa Rica-United States Cultural Center, Juan Diego Roldán Castillo, met with a group of art students at the Scottsdale Artists’ School for an overview of Costa Rica’s art culture and an interactive coaching session on what it means to be an artist. The session ended with each student walking up to the camera on the instructor’s computer and showing Juan Diego their painting interpretations of the same image of a waterfall. He also gave each student optional homework – to create a watercolor painting out of unusual pigments such as tea bags, coffee grounds, food dye, etc. He then encouraged them to share their creations with him via email.

We also worked with the Atlanta Institute for Diplomatic Leadership (AIDL), an extracurricular program founded by Bob McCormick—a retired schoolteacher who sought to engage Atlanta metropolitan area high school students on topics including diplomacy and leadership environmental sustainability, and public health. In July, for his two-day Sustainability & Environment Workshop, we connected Bob and his students with 2014 IVLP alum Gergely Hankó of Hungary. He currently manages the Hungarian Association of Environmental Enterprises (HAEE) and consults and volunteers for The PLASTIC Cup of Tisza, a nonprofit created to help reduce waste flowing into the Tisza River.

Gergely introduced the students to his home country, connected Hungary’s current environmental issues to broader trends in Europe and the world, and then showcased the work of The PLASTIC Cup. Gergely visited Atlanta during his IVLP in 2014 but lamented that he did not have much time to explore the city and surrounding areas. The session ended with Bob inviting him back to Atlanta and proposing a “sister rivers” initiative between the Tisza and Chattahoochee rivers.

The cultural and educational exchanges implemented through this virtual program are an unexpected but welcomed by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic. As U.S classrooms continue to improve their technological capabilities, the opportunities to broaden student horizons increase. The virtual space certainly does not replace the power of in-person connections, but it does provide an excellent complement to these programs. Cultural Vistas is excited to use this shift in engagement techniques and standards to further our mission and strengthen the ties between communities across the globe.

A big thank you to our Global Ties U.S. Partners: