J-1 Exchange Visitor Programs leave a lasting impression on both participants and host communities. I see it everywhere I go. This year, I was excited to meet four amazing participants who have dreamed of building their skills in the United States, but needed some assistance to make their dreams a reality. Through an innovative new program developed by their sponsor, these four received scholarships to participate in the SWT program – and are now excelling in their respective placements. The scholarship idea was a way to support stellar participants from countries that have historically lower participant levels in the program.
I caught up with them here in Washington during their sponsor’s annual Civic Leadership Summit. These four were part of the 64 student leaders chosen from across the country to attend. I wrote extensively about the summit last summer and how the cultural engagement achieved through this event tracks closely with objectives we are aiming for at the State Department – providing tools to foster future changemakers. The summit allows participants from across the country to gain new experiences, to see my nation’s capital for themselves, and meet people from other countries.
In my meetings with these four participants, I asked each to tell me about their experience and what it means to be here on the program as a scholarship participant. One of the most important goals of the J-1 programs is that the experiences are cultural and educational first. I want to share their thoughts because these four participants truly understand the value of having a balanced experience.
Manuel Guerrero of Venezuela is working on Morey’s Piers in New Jersey this summer. He emphasized how this is a once in a lifetime experience. He said his English has improved markedly, and learning English is made easier because there are so many tourists on the Piers with whom he can converse and relate. He also said it helps that there are other J-1 participants. “I’ve learned you can be independent and overcome the difficulties in your life. You build your own future.”
Ghadeer Abu-Rass of Jordan is on the Xanterra Grand Canyon South Rim for the summer. She mentioned how life and culture in a national park setting is so different from Jordan – but in a positive way. She is making new friends and really enjoying her work. “This is something I will never experience again.”
Mahmoud Sadek of Egypt is also on the Xanterra Grand Canyon South Rim. If you know anything about the hustle and bustle of Cairo, you know it is almost the polar opposite of life in the Grand Canyon. Yet, Mahmoud is embracing what he said is a connection to nature. “When I was typing my essay, I was thinking about all the things I would see – and never see in Egypt.” He said that while he came here to help people, they are also helping him, and he has learned that nature can have a major impact on our well-being. He added that it makes you think about what it means to live in peace.
Finally, Aly Metwaly of Egypt, who works at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio, shared how his parents have been so supportive of his traveling. He said his father encouraged him to leave the community for a while and see the real world for himself. “This is my first time living on my own. It has been a nice experience.”
These young people are future leaders in their communities. I am excited our sponsors embrace their role in making such dreams a reality – and that these students now understand the United States a lot better.
|About G. Kevin Saba|
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange
G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.Read More
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