Cultural Vistas Blog

Alumni Spotlight: Adapting to the Global Workplace, Virtually

Daeun Kim is one of the many interns within the Cultural Vistas network that had to change their plans and intern virtually instead of abroad. Read more about how she adapted to the new global workplace through her placement via Cultural Vistas’ Korea WEST program.

Hi Vistans! My name is Daeun Kim and I’m from South Korea. I am currently a senior majoring in English Literature at Chonnam National University in Gwangju, South Korea. I am interested in English and U.S. culture and want to know and experience life in America, so I applied for an exchange program and internship experience.

Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the exchange program was canceled, and the internship program changed to a 100% virtual program. I was disappointed at first; obviously, it would be great to go to America and work in a real office. But, rather than dwell on my misfortune, I changed my mind and became grateful for getting a chance to have such a new experience. So, I enrolled in The Washington Center and got ready to become a virtual intern. After having some interviews with advisors and companies, I connected with Cultural Vistas and started work as a virtual intern in February 2021.

I am very pleased to work with Cultural Vistas; the reception has been incredibly warm. They respected not just my time difference but also my culture. For example, in the very first week when I started work as an intern, it was time to celebrate the Lunar New Year. During this holiday, we visit our grandparents’ houses and meet with relatives to spend time together with a great deal of food. I did not expect that I could have a day off for the holiday, but thanks to the consideration of Cultural Vistas, I could go to my grandparents’ house and spend time with them without worry. It was very thoughtful and made me feel that I am respected.

In the beginning, especially before I got matched with a company, it was tough to adjust the time difference. The time difference between Seoul and Washington, D.C. is 13-14 hours, depending on the time of year. Most interviews and advising sessions took place for me from 12 AM to 4 AM KST. I was confused about time and exhausted from staying up too late or waking up so early. Three things were happening to me at that time; part-time job, placement of internship, and classes; it was kind of hectic. I had to gather myself together to ensure that I was not missing any events. And that made my calendar need to be super flashy. I wrote down all the deadlines of any materials that I needed to submit and virtual meetings on the same calendar using a variety of pens and color-coding

But, once I matched to the company, the chaotic days ended and I fully adapted. My supervisor understood my circumstances and scheduled meetings that worked for both of us. There were no more confusing timetables or waking up in the middle of the night.

Digesting English so early morning or late at night is hard; however, I tried to enjoy the moment. I

would find myself thinking, “this is fun and weird. Probably no one of my friends from Korea would have this kind of experience like me!”

In order to stay organized and focused, I have two laptops, a new one and an old one. I use the new laptop for doing work and assignments which are relevant to the internship program. And I do schoolwork and tasks outside of the internship with the older one. This division makes it possible to focus on one thing. It is a useful way for me to avoid distraction and confusion.

There is less pressure for getting up early and going to the office while working as a virtual intern, but at the same time, there is the uncertainty of what I am doing and anxiety about falling behind. To overcome these struggles, I give myself some time to recharge to focus on work with a clear mind. In addition, it is helpful to rotate projects, not just to adjust to the time difference but also to help me not get bored and escape from repetitive tasks. Additionally, I set aside my coffee time. It is a little thing, but I think it is important to start work with liveliness and feel motivated. I do miss chatting with coworkers over coffee at the office, however, it gives me time to focus entirely on myself and find some inner peace.

It is great that I can have fun and work as an intern at the same time. Interning at home makes it possible to focus on parts of my life that I have neglected before. Now, I value this moment so much and am thankful for having this experience.

 

Cultural Vistas’ June/July Newsletter

Last week, the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship program came to a close, following a 37-year run supporting and inspiring over 500 accomplished professionals from the United States to strengthen friendship and understanding between the U.S. and Germany. Cultural Vistas has worked with the Robert Bosch Foundation as its partner during this entire period, supporting the aim of advancing transatlantic relations.

To reflect on this moment in history, I reached out to members from the first cohort who went to West Germany in 1984. It was a time when the Allied and Russian forces still occupied East and West Germany, Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor, the Green Party had just emerged on the national stage, and the Opel Kadett was named European Car of the Year. I also received feedback from Fellows who just completed their Fellowship amidst the world’s worst pandemic in 100 years, the first female German Chancellor announcing her retirement after 15 years in office, and the world celebrating the 30th anniversary of German unification.

I asked a few alumni from both the first and the last cohort to reflect on what the program meant for them personally and professionally, how it advanced the transatlantic relationship, and their responsibility for alumni and Cultural Vistas to carry on the legacy. Here’s what they said:

Jackie Renner, Bosch I
“For me, the program broadened my understanding and network at an early stage of my career, so it was very formative, and the connections became very important. As I have seen the Bosch I group evolve over the years, I have been blessed with the friendship of the group and have been witness to their commitments and impact to the transatlantic relationship.”

Peter Bird: Bosch XXXVII
“Spending a year in Berlin with my wife and son during a pandemic was a major endeavor. While it was more difficult to cultivate the same type of professional relations as I would have in an office, I did get a glimpse into a Berlin that no one else gets to see: a quiet, introverted one trying to navigate COVID. That said, my wife and I have both been offered permanent jobs here, our son is thriving in a 100% German daycare, and we’re excited to stay in Berlin for longer. I think, in time, I’ll come to regard my Bosch year as a year both of introspection and personal and professional inflection when we first became acquainted with our new home.”

As I reflect on this milestone, I can’t help but ask: what should the next iteration of a transatlantic exchange program look like, given the needs and environment in which we operate?

  • Should it be multilateral?
  • Should it be a year, a month, a decade?
  • What role should technology play?
  • Who should the target audience be?

These are some of the questions we need your help with answering and supporting. We have so many lessons to learn from the last 37 years to help inform the decades to come. We need your help in shaping what comes next.

Please view Cultural Vistas’ Case for Support today, which provides a blueprint of the areas in which we need your support and partnership.

With gratitude,
Jennifer

Dr. Jennifer Clinton
President & CEO | Cultural Vistas

 

Donate Now to Support Future Leaders

 

News + Blog 
Introducing the 2021 Class of Edmund S. Muskie Interns

The Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program is excited to announce the 2021 Class of Muskie Interns! These students are distinguished participants of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, completing internships with host companies across the United States.
Cultural Vistas has built upon that foundation by providing hands-on, professional skill-building opportunities across the United States for nearly 300 graduate students over the last seven years. View the Press Release


DAICOR

The transatlantic exchange program ‘(DAICOR) New transatlantic synergies: Building a Diverse and Inclusive Culture of Remembrance’ is a joint program by Cultural Vistas gGmbH and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Washington DC, and is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The program will examine: treatment of memorials and cultural heritage with legacies from the times of slavery and colonialism to renaming of streets, schools, public places, and military bases and questions of provenance. View the Press Release

Program Updates 

Internship Abroad

Running on the success of the Virtual Internship Corps, the Internships Abroad team placed 15+ university students at remote internships with German host companies. These students came from our long-established internship programs with the University of Michigan, College of Charleston, and James Madison University. Despite pandemic restrictions, placements were secured with great companies like the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Humanity in Action, and the Green Party of Bavaria.

YSEALI Seeds for the Future
Projects in Full Swing!

Meet project Kilang ReRoot from Brunei. The team is aiming to raise awareness about food consumption and waste through educational workshops and food upcycling projects. Project Kayamanan is from the Philippines, the team is creating online peer-to-peer financial education programs for public high school students. Project PantiCT is helping orphanage residents in Indonesia to develop their communication and technology skills by providing tech-based training and certification programs.

Korea West
The 2020 Korea WEST virtual program is underway as participant interviews concluded last week.  The program will begin remotely in August where students will participate in English language training in South Korea.  Additionally, they will receive business culture sessions on interviewing skills, US vs Korean business culture, and tips for successful remote work.  From November to January they will complete their internships remotely from South Korea and complete the AFS Global Competence Certificate (GCC).

Follow @CulturalVistas on Twitter for live updates and in the meantime, learn more about the program here.

Giving Spotlight: CBYX Host Family in Andover, MA

Pictured: Louis Markus, 2016 CBYX participant with the family on a visit to Germany in 2018

Name: Sarah Blumenstock Girrell, Kris Girrell + their son, Jesse Girrell

Occupation: Business owner

Location: North of Boston in Andover, MA

Relationship to Cultural Vistas: Sarah, Kris and Jesse have been a full-time Host Family since 2014, having hosted 8 on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals program for a full year.

 

Within the Cultural Vistas international community of participants, alumni, host companies and families, cross-cultural connections abound. Our programs facilitate professional experiences across the globe and allow participants to meet people from all backgrounds whether at school, at work, or at home. The experience of hosting an exchange student is one that Sarah and her family weren’t so sure about at first.

 

Pictured: CBYX participant Thani Nguyen (Thanh Ha) with the family

Eleven years ago, Sarah received a call from her friend who is an alumna of the CBYX for Young Professionals exchange program. When Cultural Vistas was looking for people to host participants on short term stays of 2-3 day visits, she suggested Sarah give it a try. Sarah was excited, but the idea of taking someone into their home made her husband a bit nervous. But that’s where the power of positive exchange comes into play. This could be a good experience for their 12 year old son, Jesse, an only child. So, in 2010, they welcomed the first of many exchange students to their home.

 

By 2012, they became a full-time host family, welcoming German CBYX participants for a full year and have added to their transatlantic family every year since. They will become even more a part of our exchange world this summer when Jesse, who is now 23, will head to Germany as an American participant of the CBYX for Young Professionals program.

 

We interviewed Sarah about her experience as a host-mom and what she’s learned along the way: 

Pictured: CBYX participant 2019-2020 Melli Riner

Why do you think it is important for people to live with a family while experiencing a new culture? The international aspect is so interesting. People do things differently, but people are actually the same. You really see this by experiencing it together, having cultural experiences like Christmas in a different home, eating meals with new ingredients, navigating relationships–it enriches your life.

“I love the world we show them and I love the world they introduce us to.”
– Sarah Blumenstock Girrell

 

What are some things that have surprised you about your exchange “children”?

German kids don’t know how to write a check! They are amazed when filling up gas and marvel at how big the cars are. Also – every one of the kids who has come to stay with us has been told that Americans just eat fast food and an unhealthy diet and are surprised by how healthy we eat. I always take them to the grocery store the first week they arrive so they can show me what they like to eat and I can help them find what they are looking for. Mostly, I notice that having come from multi-generational homes and being older than the average American when finishing high school, they are eager to learn, grow,  give and be part of the family.

Pictured: Our first! Lukas Jetter on his wedding day to Maren in 2018 that we were invited to.

What advice would you give to those interested in hosting international participants? Each kid has brought so much to our life, there’s a lot of love there. You help raise them. It’s a relationship for the long-term. We hosted the parents of one of our children while on vacation in the U.S., went to the wedding of one host son in Germany, and kept in touch with them all. My advice to potential host families is to be flexible. We were supposed to have a participant stay with us in 2020, but the arrangement was canceled due to the pandemic. Luckily, we are expecting to find out this June who we are hosting next at the same time seeing our son off to Germany where he already has a family waiting to welcome him.

 

 

To learn more about opportunities to host a CBYX for Young Professionals exchange participant, contact Max Flescher: mflescher@culturalvistas.org

Our Journey to Becoming an Agile Organization

A year ago, this month during the height of the pandemic, our organization started having internal conversations about the need to be more agile.  Our business like many others came to a complete standstill.  We were in the middle of implementing layoffs, figuring out how to deliver exchange programs virtually and pursuing government stimulus funding.  The terms “agile,” “pivot” and “reimagine” became a major part of our vernacular.

ag·ile /ˈajəl/ adjective

    1. able to move quickly and easily.
    2. relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

These conversations were far reaching, theoretical and very confusing.  The discussions ranged from how to foster an agile mindset to how to become a “flatter” organization to how we were going to start acting and talking like a software development company – the prominent users of agile product development.

We had a hard time agreeing on what we were actually talking about and spent time developing alternative vocabularies that made even less sense than the terms we were trying to understand. Ultimately a lot of team members walked away from those conversations frustrated.

That seemed like a first strike.

Though frustrated, we weren’t ready to give up.  We decided to proceed with “doing” agile versus “talking” about agile.  Given our need to find the “magic pivot” we pursued a 3-month effort to identify new program and revenue models.

We quickly stood up four cross-departmental teams whose mandate was to pursue design thinking and agile product development to come up with viable program/revenue models we could launch at the end of three months.  The teams worked hard, built a lot of camaraderie, and for the most part had fun.

The outcomes were mixed. We jumped so quickly into “doing” and didn’t really develop the technical knowledge and skills of design thinking and agile product development. The limited preparation and training led to limited results. We didn’t find the big pivot, but we did accomplish a robust experience of agile that helped those involve better understand the concepts and how to apply them.

That seemed like strike two.

In August as the teams were winding down their agile product development work, we decided to pursue a more comprehensive strategic planning effort.  We needed some intensive thinking about our future, the future of exchanges and what role we should play in a new world order.

In our strategic discussion with our key stakeholders the same theme of the needing to be agile, adaptable, and innovative resurfaced and became one of our strategic pillars, summarized as the following:

Build a learning culture that fosters innovation, resilience and adaptability and build the capacity of staff for innovation and agile program development. 

With two strikes already on the books, we decided to double-down on agile and take it to the next level by investing in staff training and development on both agile program management and design thinking across the organization.

We turned to our cross-departmental team structure (as that was successful) and provided them a mandate to advance the goals in the strategic plan, giving them autonomy to prioritize what steps should come first. We then brought in an outside trainer and coach to work with them on agile project management. We started with a series of trainings, then let them work through the methodology with the coach. The teams worked using agile for three months, presenting to a steering committee on a weekly basis.

Last week, I asked the product owners to present their deliverables to our board of directors during our annual spring meeting.  They did a great job and I was so proud of the learning and growth we’ve experienced by failing AND succeeding together.

Overall, we learned from the first series of strikes and ultimately hit a homerun with this process. We have built a deep camaraderie among staff who don’t normally work together. I believe this spirit is invaluable to rebuilding our organization. As I look back at this journey – I think it is important to highlight a few key lessons and I welcome any learnings or questions you may have too!

  • One of the core tenets of agile project management is to fail fast. That is a necessary part of the process. Our first two attempts I referred to as strikes, were critical in getting to the homerun. Without those lessons, we would not have been able to get to the place we are today.
  • Bringing in outside training and coaching was a game changer. The skills required for agile project management are very technical. Having this critical guidance made a huge difference in the successes we eventually realized.
  • Developing champions and early adopters of a new strategy is so important. Once you have a core set of staff that sit in various places throughout the organization who know, understand and have executed agile project management – it begins to seep into the organizational and soon, everyone starts time blocking meetings and having retrospectives.
  • Knowing when to deploy it is key. You need to make a distinction between agile mindset and agile methodology. The two are interconnected. It’s hard to deploy agile methodology without an agile mindset, but you can have an agile mindset without deploying agile methodology.

We just completed a set of trainings on design thinking to help us ideate new program, service and revenue models that align to our mission and new strategic direction. It’s exciting to bring new learnings to life and we are looking forward to co-creating opportunities with our partners, alumni and supporters!

Stay tuned~