World Link held three Midterm Diversity Immersion Conferences across the U.S. over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend. Students placed in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, and Ohio made the snowy trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Students placed in Colorado and Texas experienced the culturally unique city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. World Link California students headed south to sunny Los Angeles.
Goals of Midterm
Each conference had four focuses. The first focus was for students to check in on their program goals and set new ones for the 2nd half of their exchange year. The second and one of the most important focuses was Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) planning. During the conference, students learned about the UN Sustainable Development Goals and brainstormed possible projects they could do to help reach them. Once they had a list of ideas, they took one and ran with it. Most students left Midterm with a clear idea of what project they want to accomplish in the spring for Global Youth Service Day.
The third and fourth focuses of the Midterm Conference are tied together through the topic of diversity. It is during this conference, students explore the idea of diversity, learn about discrimination, and think hard about a minority group in their home country they could potentially help. To help facilitate these difficult conversations, World Link organizes a diversity immersion activity to expose students to these fundamental ideas. Once students return to their host city, they are asked to write or speak about a minority group in their home country and tell us how they could help this group using experiences like their Diversity Immersion Activity at Midterm.
Diversity Immersion Activities
For their Diversity Immersion Activity, students placed in California took part in the Tools For Tolerance for Teens Program at the Museum of Tolerance. Facilitators of the museum lead World Link students throughout the different exhibits, showcasing the horrors of the Holocaust and other human rights abuses around the globe. After this eye-opening tour, World Link students had the honor of hearing the life story of Holocaust survivor, Engelina Billauer. Listening to her speak about overcoming the terrible obstacles she faced in life was heart-wrenching but at the same time, inspiring for the students.
World Link Midwest Region students experienced and learned about three different religions. Their Sunday morning started with a tour and presentation of the Islamic Center of Minnesota. There they learned about Islam and its’ practices. Students of all backgrounds were able to ask many questions, and even our Muslims students were able to ask deeper questions about their own faith. Next, the group headed to Zion Baptist Church. They had the opportunity to participate in their Sunday service and meet some of the congregation. During service, World Link YES student Sherina Mmadu (Mali/IA) joined the choir and gave a stunning impromptu solo of Amazing Grace.
The last stop on this tour of religions was the Jewish synagogue, Bet Shalom. Students learned about the history of Judaism from the Executive Director of Bet Shalom, Steve Barberio. After experiencing all three places, students took away the idea that although we may be different, we have many similarities too. As Steve put it, “We work together to get over our differences.”
The small Picuris Pueblo community made the Diversity Immersion Activity for World Link Colorado and Texas students truly unique. Upon arrival, students were greeted by members of the community including tribal elders, government officials, and the newly established youth council. Students learned the history and the importance of the Picuris during a walking tour of the village and were allowed access to places not on the standard tour. One highlight of the village tour was seeing the tribe’s herd of bison up close and learning about the agriculture issues they face. Once back inside, the Picuris dancers performed a fifteen-minute traditional dance not usually performed for tourists. World Link students joined in the cultural sharing with 8 countries performing their own traditional dances for the Picuris community.
For lunch, students sat with community members, facilitating interesting discussions on similarities and differences in culture, over a delicious meal of Indian fry bread tacos. Towards the end of the visit, World Link FLEX student Nurbolot Ulanbekov (Kyrgyzstan/CO) gifted the Youth Council Governor his traditional hat, the Ak Kalpak, representing deep respect from his culture. In return, the youth governor gifted Nurbolot the first traditional belt he had woven, a sign of respect in their tribal culture.
World Link students returned to their host cities motivated, rejuvenated, and inspired. Read about their experiences below.
“This meeting changed my perspective of the world, opened my eyes for the diversity we have in our society. I started thinking more about the groups that are discriminated in my country, and how to help them when I’ll come back home as an alumni. This day was an experience that I’ll never forget.” – Olga Jagielloweicz (Poland/CO)
“I learned a lot at this orientation, about the life [and my] future…[It] helped me to understand more and finally to find my purpose of being here. As a future politician I want to make a change in the world and it all starts with small steps which we made during our Midterm orientation.” – Leyla Ramonkulova (Tajikistan/CO)
“It makes me feel emotional during the cultural exchanges, when both of us shared our dance and song, and it shows the beauty of how our world and the people were designed, the beauty of tolerance and how diverse the world is created, you’ll always leave a piece of your heart behind, and I’m sure this place was one of them.” – Syafira Annisa (Indonesia/CO)
“I loved the diversity experience which we had at 3 completely different religious places. We walked in their shoes to get more familiar with their lives. And the main thing that I have learned is that no nation, no religion, nobody is not better or worse from others. Even though we have differences we are the same. Everyone deserves equal human rights.” – Aynur Tagyyeva (Turkemenistan/IA)
I have learned how to do my future projects. I always thought about “How do people do projects?”. Midterm helped me found out. As soon as possible, I will start my first step in my future project… After Midterm, I got a lot of motivation to do the best in the second half of my exchange year in the US and I look forward to using this knowledge in different situations to solve many problems as a leader.” – Aibek Saidov (Kygyzstan/TX)
“Mid-term was amazing experience! I have learned a lot about religions all around the world; it has made all of us so respectful and open minded to new things. We also learned about two new projects [Melting Pot and GYSD] that I am so excited to start in my community.” – Yuliia Kravchuk (Ukraine/IA)
“This past weekend was one of my favorite parts of exchange. I made new friends from different countries, learned about different religions and how they all call for peace and love. Most importantly how our differences makes us so similar. This trip taught me how important diversity is and how accepting others differences makes the world a better place.
Also, I gained a clearer understanding about the United Nations [SDGs] and how important they are to build a better world for all of us.” – Imen Aouadi (Tunisia/IL)
“[This conference] gave me a lot more, than I expected. I gained more confidence, knowledge and created plans for the rest of my exchange year.” – Dmytro Sereda (Ukraine/CA)
“The main thing we learn was to never give up on your dream and also more about the grassroots movement, which really connects us people with common motives and inspires us do make a change for the good in the world, even if it’s just a tiny step in the journey.” – Shreya Soni (India/CA)
“…three days that had a big positive influence on my exchange year, improving many social skills, making a lot of international friends and having memorable time that I will never forget; three days that made me realize how lucky I am to be a part of this huge family that connected people from all over the world; three days that helped me know how important is it to get to know different cultures, different religions and see how varied the world is.” – Irakli Shonia (Georgia/OH)
“When we came home Monday night, I was laying in by bed and ask myself 3 questions.
-WHERE AM I FROM?
-WHY AM I HERE?
-WHAT CAN I DO FOR THE FUTURE GENERATIONS?
The weekend in New Mexico was more than good, IT WAS GREAT GREAT GREAT!”
– Serigne Gueye (Senegal/CO)
“With my World Link family, I had one of the most productive, intensive and valuable weekends of my life. We worked on GYSD ideas and now I know what will I do to make society I’m currently living in better. Now I have stronger ties with my World Link family and I believe in the strength of these relationships.” – Murad Mikayilzade (Azerbaijan/CO)
Thank you to our students who shared their Miderm experience with us. We look forward to seeing your successes during the second half of this exchange year.