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A February 2021 update

Last year on this day, we were looking forward to one extra day of February. And we were days away from the pandemic declaration. This year, as we enter March 2021, we are one year into this most unusual time. February 2021 saw the first Presidential visit to Kalamazoo of the Biden Administration, and for us, has included welcoming visitors from 29 countries (virtually); engaging exchanges with staff from Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) and Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC), as well as an inspiring dialogue between young European leaders and grassroots changemakers from Uplift Kalamazoo. We are also thrilled to share with you a snippet of the first in a series of interviews marking our 50th anniversary. We thank Judy Huth for kicking things off!

Here are a few updates:

  • 50th Anniversary Interview Series (preview): Judy Huth

  • Programming Highlights

  • Presidential Visit and feeding the vaccinators

  • Global Ties U.S. National Meeting - register by March 17

50th Anniversary Interview Series (preview): Judy Huth

As part of celebrating our 50th anniversary later this year, we are conducting a series of interviews with volunteers, hosts, and visitors who have spent time with us in Kalamazoo. Former CI board member (including a stint as president) as well as longtime volunteer, Judy Huth, joined program associate Ian Magnuson for a brief interview on her experience engaging with the organization since its early days, some of her favorite visitor stories, and what citizen diplomacy means to her. A brief excerpt is below with a teaser video available here.

An excerpt from the interview:

One time I was having lunch with a really nice teacher from Pakistan. I literally spent lunch with him and that was it. We didn't have a long interaction. And he was showing me pictures of his kids, his hometown of Islamabad. He shared a photo of his six-year-old daughter and mentioned her first day of school was the previous week. He said she was so proud that his sons became very jealous of all the attention so he had to take them to Dunkin' Donuts to make them happy. I looked at him and I said, "wait, you have Dunkin' Donuts in Islamabad?" And he said, yeah, of course there's one on every corner." And I said "okay, my bad. I had a stereotype of Islamabad that did not include Dunkin' Donuts on every corner."

He said, "why, what did you think about Islamabad?" And I said, "you know, I'm ashamed to say it. But I think car bombs and violence because that's what I see on the news." He responded saying "yeah, that's what I see on the news about the United States."

So it just struck me at that time that it's not just about us breaking down stereotypes about America, it's that I learned I had my stereotypes too about places, that are totally wrong, and yet I never see a Dunkin' Donuts without thinking of that moment.

If you are interested in helping us celebrate our 50 year milestone and have stories to share, please indicate your interest here.

Programming Highlights

A dialogue on systemic racism in the United States and the significance of the Black Lives Matter Movement

In early February, we hosted a virtual IVLP visit to Kalamazoo of a delegation focused on U.S. Social, Political, and Economic Issues for Young European Leaders. Their time with us was centered on a dialogue with local leaders and uplifters King Ryan, Jacob Pinney-Johnson and JaRay Reese from Uplift Kalamazoo, on systemic racism and the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement within the United States. Uplift Kalamazoo, through a grassroots base, brings resources and aid to the Local Black Community, while also Enacting Solutions to deal with the effects of Systemic Racism in Kalamazoo. The visitors, from Albania, Andorra, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Italy, Malta, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey, were particularly impressed with the grassroots nature of Uplift Kalamazoo's work and impassioned young leadership. A visitor from Austria, during our conversation, shared a photo from their office of a solidarity demonstration in Vienna, that took place on June 4th, following the killing of George Floyd by police.

The following day visitors met virtually for a home hospitality session to connect with local home hosts. Discussions varied from breakout group to breakout group. Based on feedback from the hosts, everyone had a great time and wished there was more! Thank you to Jerry and Louise Potratz (joined by Mike Stoline and Janice Lakers, as well as Alice and Paul Asmus and Luanna VanDam), Barry and Linda Reeser, and Kevin Wordelman for hosting!

"My group's home hospitality discussion took a very interesting turn when a visitor from the United Kingdom and our hosts got on the subject of the nature and purpose of statues of individuals with complicated histories. Much like the United States, the U.K. has seen growing public interest in addressing the perception of historical figures involved in the transatlantic slave trade, who often used part of their wealth for philanthropic, and arguably "good", projects at home, while committing atrocities abroad. I wish we had had more time as the discussion started to branch out to other countries just as the clock ran out. I'm looking forward to future interactions with visitors."

- Communications and Program Associate Ian Magnuson’s thoughts on his first program and virtual hospitality experience.

Empowering Youth through Workforce Development

Later in February, IVLP visitors from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Zimbabwe came to explore the U.S. vocational and technical education system, and the ways it seeks to innovate in order to attract talent and make sure that youth are employment ready for the jobs of the present and future. Through visits to Kalamazoo Valley Community College and KRESA, they had the chance to explore, with local leaders, best practices in engaging young people and preparing them to thrive in adulthood.

The first exchange, on Wednesday, February 24th, connected visitors with Sarah Mansberger, Jason Luke, and Paige Daniels of Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) and Ashley Everett from Duncan Aviation in Battle Creek. The session focused on ways in which at-risk youth are taught the skills necessary to succeed in workplaces of the future, often not part of the curriculum. Participants were particularly interested in the inclusion of social and emotional learning practices in curricula and the ability of school districts at multiple levels to innovate and explore new strategies. Additionally, participants resonated with the focus on providing students with role models in a variety of career paths. They discussed the challenges of students facing poverty and the way this can limit imagination in what they can achieve. Jason Luke noted that students “can’t be it unless you can see it” and participants from a variety of countries shared stories confirming this approach’s widespread potential.

In order to develop young students’ financial literacy skills, the presenters discussed a program in which 3rd graders are given funds to steward, develop, and importantly, share with the community. This approach seemed to appeal to many of the visitors in areas where careers in the financial sector carry significant social cache with young people and were interested in exploring ways to implement similar programs in their work.

Duncan Aviation shared its work-based learning programs as a way for students to gain on-the-job training in a career field while learning the soft skills needed to navigate the workplace. Visitors discussed how these skills are often not taught in schools, leading to job seekers with high technical capacities but limited success in finding gainful employment.

The following day, the group met with leaders from Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) while virtually visiting Kalamazoo, exploring their wind turbine academy, work on sustainable and innovative food systems, career pathways, and so much more. We look forward to sharing more about that exchange in our next edition.

Education in the Digital Age

On March 1st, our staff will attend a virtual IVLP program opening that launches the "Education in the Digital Age" project with visitors from Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Estonia, The Gambia, Israel, Jordan, Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malta, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Republic of North Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, and Turkey. Later in the month, they will be "visiting" the Van Buren Intermediate School District's Migrant Education Program and Western Michigan University's Department of Educational and Instructional Technology.

Visitors will also participate in virtual home hospitality, allowing them to informally engage with Americans, deepening cultural connections during their "stay".

President Biden Visits Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo received its first presidential visit of the new administration with President Biden, alongside Senator Peters, Governor Whitmer and several local officials, getting a tour of Pfizer’s manufacturing site, where the first approved vaccines were rolled out in December. The presidential visit, and the announcement of a doubling in capacity, are a reminder that we still have a long way to go before developing any semblance of a new normal, but progress is being made.

On the ground locally, the all-volunteer Feed the Fight Kalamazoo project, of which we serve as fiscal sponsor, continues to feed the vaccinators - many of whom are themselves volunteers. Thanks go out to all of the local people giving shots in arms here in the greater Kalamazoo community. You can read more about Feed the Fight Kalamazoo here.

Global Ties U.S. *Virtual* National Meeting - Exchange Matters

The Global Ties U.S. National Meeting, the premier gathering of organizations, U.S. government agencies, advocates, and leaders in the international exchange field, is coming soon. The week-long event, from March 22-26 will feature a variety of live-stream sessions as well as on-demand content. As a Community-Based Member of Global Ties U.S. we are delighted to participate in this conference celebrating our Network's collective resilience and unwavering dedication to forging connections without boundaries...because, Exchange Matters. Registration is open until March 17th.

Join us! You can register at this link.

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