Since The Experiment in International Living’s founding in 1932, and its pioneering the homestay the following year, our organization has been rooted in enabling intercultural connection and promoting respect among people from different cultures. To this day, this remains the cornerstone of the World Learning Inc. family’s portfolio of study abroad and exchange programs.
As part of our deep commitment to communities and local cultures, School for International Training (SIT) launched the SIT World Languages Center this year, which works to promote and preserve indigenous and less commonly taught languages, like Quechua and Tibetan. The World Languages Center also features specialized courses in widely studied languages—from Arabic to Chinese, Spanish, French, and more. Beyond providing practical language acquisition, the courses immerse students in the culture behind the language and students learn directly from teachers based in local country contexts.
SIT has taken additional steps to ensure this intercultural perspective is reflected throughout its coursework and academics. Early this summer, SIT appointed Dr. Said Graiouid and Dr. Cheikh Thiam to senior academic leadership positions within the new Office of the Dean of Faculty. As dean of faculty and academic dean, respectively, they will oversee all of SIT’s academic programs and faculty, as well as lead an initiative to review SIT’s curriculum and pedagogy to enhance SIT’s relationship with host communities and its approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the global classroom.
“Dr. Graiouid and Dr. Thiam have been leading voices for diversity, equity, and inclusivity both externally in the fields of international and U.S. higher education, and internally at SIT. They will be bringing their exceptional critical expertise and guidance as we work through this process,” says SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett.
World Learning’s global exchange programs also aim to strengthen intercultural understanding, through programs like Communities Connecting Heritage (CCH), which concluded in August 2020 after four years. The U.S. Department of State-funded program connected organizations in the U.S. with counterparts in other countries to engage through virtual and in-person exchanges and develop projects to advance cultural heritage appreciation and preservation.
One cohort, Cultural Heritage without Borders Albania, teamed up with Comal Heritage Food Incubator by Focus Points in Colorado for the Cultural HERstory project, which brought together sixteen female entrepreneurs with roots from Latin America, Ethiopia, Syria, Indigenous Colorado, Albania, and Greece. They collaborated to create a book and corresponding video telling the stories of women entrepreneurs focused on cultural traditions and customs. As part of the project, Albanian participant Kristina Llane shared her familial and community tradition of beekeeping, which has deep roots in the Western Balkans country.
Following the CCH program, Llane won a small grant to create a curriculum, textbook, and educational kit to support the local teaching of the history and cultural significance of beekeeping in elementary classrooms in Albania. She additionally plans to launch a public exhibition and host a panel discussion in the spring about how to protect and preserve the collective culture, beekeeping traditions, and the environment.
Further, World Learning’s On-Demand Youth Leadership Program (ODYLP), has been enabling teens to become stewards for cultural inclusion. In February 2020, ODYLP facilitated a youth exchange between high school students in the U.S., Peru, and Ecuador focused on youth leadership through multiculturalism and inclusion. As a result of the exchange, one student from Peru, Jazmín Benites, kick-started a project called “Conoce a tu Patria” (Know your Homeland), which aims to promote knowledge of Peru’s culture and civic pride. Benites is now working with her teachers to integrate civic lessons into her school’s curriculum.
In addition, a group of alumni from the U.S. are building out a website to spread awareness and educate on issues facing black people, indigenous peoples, and people of color (BIPOC). They plan for the website to spotlight BIPOC stories and share resources, especially to bring attention to pertinent issues in their local area and inspire action.
This organization was founded to build intercultural understanding. We carry on that legacy today through programs that help participants gain a true appreciation of different experiences, identities, and cultures, and inspire them leverage their training to become champions for a more understanding world.