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: