Cultural Vistas Blog

Giving Spotlight: Ben Conard from Five North Chocolate®

In addition to running his own certified fair trade, LGBT business enterprise, Ben Conard, an alumnus of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, makes time to give back to the Cultural Vistas community in a variety of ways. From financial to in-kind contributions, collaborations, and offering his time and talents as a mentor — we are highlighting Ben and the ways and reasons he gives to Cultural Vistas.

Name: Ben Conard

Program: Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, 2016-17, Germany

Current location: Long Island, New York

Occupation: Founder & CEO, Five North Chocolate®

What is one of your fondest memories of your exchange experience?

My CBYX cohort (33.PPP) was the first ever to have designated exchange partners. My German counterpart, Viktoria Bucholz, was living in Kansas working in hospitality. Viktoria connected me with her family in Germany who invited me to stay on their farm in the Black Forest. Upon my arrival, I met her grandmother, Adelheit. We talked about Viktoria’s journey and her generous and happy spirit which brought her to tears. To this day, I have never met Viktoria in person and, yet, share a special connection with her and her family. This, I believe, is what makes exchange so powerful.

Also, introducing my host family to pumpkin pie and s’mores were among my more comical memories.

How do you keep your exchange experience alive?

One of the most admirable qualities of German culture is a focus on loyalty to friends, family, and deeply rooted relationships. And while it isn’t easy to keep transatlantic relationships alive, my German colleagues and peers have taught me how to do just that. Whether we are sharing old memories and photos, video chatting, editing essays in each other’s native language, or visiting New York or Cologne, we continue to cherish our shared experiences.

Why do you give to Cultural Vistas?

I was encouraged to explore international exchange as a post-grad option and I am forever grateful to my mentors at SUNY Geneseo (Cynthia Klima and Judy Albers!) who pushed me to do so. In any way that I am able to provide that encouragement and support to others, I will. Cultural Vistas continues to fight for increasing international diplomacy across borders one relationship at a time by bringing the world and our global neighbors closer together. And I cannot think of a more important investment in our world and its future generations than that.

What are some of your personal highlights from being a part of the Cultural Vistas community of giving?

It has been an absolute privilege and joy to mentor recent CBYX applicants and participants. I remember a recent video chat I had with a Fellow from the 36th CBYX cohort. She was nervous about not getting the most out of her exchange experience because it was cut short due to the pandemic. I reminded her that her initiative and openness to take on an experience like CBYX at such an early stage in her career and life is a skill, attitude, and mindset that she will take with her in all of her future endeavors in our world. The exchange experience that was cut short might be the first in her quest to contribute as a global citizen, but will certainly not be the last. I am grateful to be reminded of this value that is shared among the Cultural Vistas community.

About Five North Chocolate®

Thanks Ben! Your contributions mean so much and have impacted many. Cultural Vistas loves Five North Chocolate® and to help you combat those winter blues, when you enter the code CV10 at checkout on you get 10% off your purchase of these delicious treats AND 10% will be donated back to Cultural Vistas!

Visit Five North Chocolate® to send chocolate gifts to all your loved ones this Valentine’s Day and throughout the month of February!

To become part of our community of giving, learn more here.

We Are Ambassadors For Democracy

At Cultural Vistas, we are Ambassadors for Democracy. Born in the ashes of World War II with the mission of re-building relationships between nations once deep at war, our organization has a storied legacy of bringing diverse perspectives together to find shared solutions for common global issues. As we move forward in a new year, we recommit to upholding the values we hold most dear such as equality, freedom and respectful debate. 

We gathered our staff and network virtually to weigh in on the work we can do in this coming year to support our values. Read on to hear the diverse ways our community pledges to support democracy this year and beyond.

How Will You Be An Ambassador For Democracy in 2021?

“Democracy is as strong as the people supporting it. I am dedicated to strengthening our democracy through Cultural Vistas’ programs by setting up spaces nationwide that expand learning of both our democracy and the role our democratic institutions play in it.”

Paul Champaloux

Senior Director, Exchange Visitor and Grants Programs and Global Programs for Young Professionals


“In 2021 I will be even more active in the social side of the transatlantic relationship which has brought so much peace and prosperity to the world. This includes supporting the World Affairs Council affiliate in my community, mentoring international fellowship applicants at my local university, and working to rebuild as much people-to-people programming as possible once COVID restrictions are lifted.”

Daniel Villanueva. Ph.D.

Program Director, Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals


“I want to find ways to better equip myself and my communities to engage in productive and healthy debate.”

Jennifer Clinton

President/CEO, Cultural Vistas

“By enabling more incredible leaders to make a difference in the world through the programs like YSEALI Seeds for the Future and Edmund S. Muskie Internship Programs. Through these programs, young leaders in diverse industries create projects, jobs, innovations, and community engagement opportunities in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region.”

Natalia Etten

Program Officer, Exchange Visitor and Grant Programs


“To be an Ambassador for Democracy in 2021, I commit to using intercultural competence skills to better understand my beliefs, listen to others’ experiences and suspend judgement to engage in meaningful dialogue from diverse stakeholders.  By doing so, I hope to contribute to greater understanding and cooperation towards equity and justice.”

Nancy Ongstad

Senior Director, Internship Placement Programs


“I will commit to combatting inequity and supporting social justice leaders and movements within my local community and on the national scale.”

Laura Gross

Director of Administration, People + Culture


“I have to learn more about principles of democracy and have clear understanding in order to share those values with my community.”

Marina Brodsky

Accounting Specialist


“I will strive to bring people together to find common ground through true dialog, not monologue, about democratic values.”

Michael Nelson

Vice President, Digital Strategy & Technology


“I will be an informed and active citizen, welcoming difficult discussions. I will ensure that I speak truths, fact checking my comments frequently and on variety of sources. I will support and be active of the democratic system- voting and volunteering my time.”

Elizabeth Kumbhari

General Counsel & Vice President, Professional Exchange Programs


“I will be an Ambassador for Democracy by continuing my commitment to encourage my friends and family to register to vote and make their voices heard.”

Steven Washington

Assistant Program Director, International Visitors Leadership Program


“I will be an Ambassador for Democracy in 2021 by sharing the stories that represent progress towards the values I hold closest to my heart including freedom, equity and justice.”

Lauren Salisbury

Director of Communications


“I’ll be supporting democracy by continuing to be a young professional with the current CBYX cohort and then reapply and hopefully get to go to Germany in person this year. A great pleasure to be in this year’s amazing cohort, despite everything being online!”

Patrick Kornegay Jr. 

2020 CBYX Fellow

“I am an ambassador for democracy in 2021 too, by listening to and encouraging diverse opinions through civil, non-violent dialogue: modeling curiosity for learning through others and other cultures.”

Howard Wallack

Cultural Vistas Board Member

YSEALI Seeds for the Future Grantee Produces Conservation Film Series in Brunei

YSEALI Seeds for the Future has brought together many talented people to address the most pressing challenges in different communities across Southeast Asia. In 2020, despite all the ups and downs, the YSEALI Seeds grantees have added a new meaning to the word “community” with their perseverance and passion.

As we get ready to leave behind a challenging year, we are celebrating small grant competition winner Play Naturally for releasing Brunei’s first series of conservation short films. The innovative project provides opportunities for Bruneian youth to create short films inspired by the beauty of nature and local myths and legends.

The Play Naturally project provides opportunities for Bruneian youth to create short films inspired by the beauty of nature and Dusun myths and legends. The project was launched with the hope … that the stories we create will inspire filmmakers and audiences alike to see natural environments as part of our cultural heritage,” the founders of Play Naturally wrote on their website.

Play Naturally’s three short films Mother Nature, Mpoyong, and Kisah Suang Jati are available for viewing on their website. You may support the young artists by watching and “liking” their creative expression. Read more about these three films below.

Read more of “YSEALI Seeds for the Future Grantee Produces Conservation Film Series in Brunei”

Celebrating New Vistas in International Exchange

We often speak of the power of international experiences to equip future global leaders with the skills to confront complex global challenges. In 2020, we saw the leadership of our community worldwide rise to show us that indeed, we are building a network of global leaders and thinkers whose dedication and resiliency has helped local communities confront COVID-19 related challenges and create more welcoming, inclusive and sustainable communities.

As the year approaches its end, join us in reflecting on the power of international exchange in times of adversity with highlights from our Cultural Vistas Virtual Awards Benefit with the video below. We celebrate the great impact our network has made across the world with highlights from CNN Worldwide host and best-selling author Fareed Zakaria, Shari Slate of Cisco, Dr. Linda Lopez of Welcoming America, and alumni of International Visitor Leadership Program, Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and more exchange programs.

Cultural Vistas Book Club Explores Solutions for Global Engagement in a Post-Pandemic World

As a career diplomat with a lifetime of international experiences, I’m proud to be part of the global network at Cultural Vistas, an organization dedicated to enriching minds, advancing global skills, building careers, and connecting lives through international exchange.

I joined my friend Jennifer Clinton, President/CEO this week to lead a virtual book club discussion of 10 Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, the latest book from Fareed Zakaria, CNN Worldwide host and best-selling author.

Earlier this year, Zakaria delivered a keynote address on closing the gap in global leadership at the Cultural Vistas Virtual Awards Benefit.

“The path can be complicated,“ Zakaria said when discussing the future of our global society. “What Cultural Vistas is doing is to remind people is that there’s a world out there, that it is rich and diverse, that it requires an enormous amount of energy and attention and in doing this, what you are doing is strengthening the ultimate goals.”

Read more of “Cultural Vistas Book Club Explores Solutions for Global Engagement in a Post-Pandemic World”