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Global Learning By Design: A New Family To Lean On

Posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 at 5:02 pm.

By Katelynn Ziegler-Hall, Cultural Vistas
A version of this story was original published on Cultural Vistas Blog

Dalia and Shams’ U.S. experience was a family affair. Outside the office, their Gensler studio colleagues, host family, and friends came together for a traditional Iraqi dinner in October.

In September 2017, Dalia and Sham began their semester long internships with Gensler, a global design and architecture firm in Washington D.C. This experience not only laid a strong foundation for their future career success, but also allowed them to forge lifelong friendships in their American host community.

Dalia and Shams took this unique opportunity to live with local host parents, Tom and Jeanne Clarkson. The six weeks they spent together would enrich their U.S. experience. Dalia, Shams, Tom, and Jeanne came together around the dinner table, enjoying both American and Middle Eastern home-cooked meals and nightly conversations about culture, family, current events, and daily highlights.

“Some nights we spent hours looking through photo albums and talking about life and family,” said Shams. “It was so nice. We grew to love them and will keep in touch forever.”

Host parents, Tom and Jeanne Clarkson, shared their home and served as a second family for Dalia and Shams during their U.S. stay

Together they took trips to experience the work of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright – including Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. They also went on regular outings to the movies and to shop around the Greater DC area.

Living with Tom and Jeanne exposed the young architects to the intimate details of daily American life, including what it’s like to live alongside the family dog (Finn), who Dalia befriended after some initial fear.

It was an experience neither the Clarksons nor the young ladies will forget.

“We hadn’t realized how close we had become in the six short weeks we stayed together,” said Tom, recounting their teary airport sendoff. “They were truly part of the family. That is what made the experience so rewarding. If you have the time and the means to be a host, you will gain sons and daughters whom you will remember, and who will remember you for the rest of your lives.”

Shams (left) and Dalia (right) at the Lincoln Memorial. One of their many visits to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

A Lasting Impact

Dalia and Shams’ time in the States was brief, but its impact on their personal and professional lives will be lasting.

“I always dreamed of visiting the U.S.,” said Shams. “I had experienced it through stories from friends and movies. Now, I can say I have experienced it through my own eyes.”

The talented young architects returned to Baghdad at the end of 2017 with sharpened design skills, a newfound confidence, and joint aspirations to start an architecture practice focused on rebuilding their country.

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About Nicole Elkon

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

Nicole Elkon

Nicole Elkon joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange in September 2021. Until June 2021, Ms. Elkon was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Human Rights First, an independent advocacy organization focused on human rights and the rule of law. Prior to her position as COO, Ms. Elkon was a Senior Advisor at Results for America (RFA), a non-profit organization focused on advancing data-driven, evidence based public policy at all levels of government. She also served as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of ECA and was Director of the Office of Public Private Partnerships at ECA working to leverage strategic partnerships to enhance Administration foreign policy priorities.

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