How do you expand your country’s education system, design a program that decreases mental health stigmas, and provide exchange opportunities to a diverse group of youth from multiple countries? Ask Victor Juarez of Guatemala.
In 2012, Victor came to the United States on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), where he focused on expanding international exchanges in higher education. During the program, he travelled the United States with other leaders from Latin America and met with experts in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, and Arizona. After an informative and eye-opening month spent in the U.S., Victor fully understood how transformational and powerful exchanges can be, and he wanted others to have the opportunity to study abroad as well. Using the skills he sharpened through the IVLP and drawing upon his previous experience working as an EducationUSA advisor, Victor founded Study Abroad Guatemala. This initiative arranges short-term academic programs in Guatemala for U.S. undergraduate students. Additionally, he began volunteering as a coach for a mentorship program with Guatemalan students from underserved backgrounds who are interested in studying abroad in the U.S.
However, Victor wasn’t finished making a difference. From October to November of 2016, Victor returned to the U.S., this time as a part of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), which took him to Dallas, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Applying what he learned about business and entrepreneurship during the program, and ever striving to give back to his community, he co-founded Tu Consejeria Guatemala (Your Counseling Service Guatemala) upon his return to Guatemala. Tu Consejeria Guatemala is a mental health project designed to connect youth with mental health professionals using a low-cost technology platform. The project has been essential to improving the mental health of young people throughout Guatemala, offering them the opportunity to interact with mental health professionals, improve their resiliency, advance their life plans, and strive towards their goals. The initiative has been considered highly innovative in Guatemala given that mental health needs and services are often not easily available to rural populations.
Victor’s experiences on IVLP and YLAI gave him the opportunity to build the skills he needed to enable, mentor, and empower young Guatemalans to experience the benefits of cross-cultural and academic exchanges firsthand. When asked about how his exchange experiences have impacted his career, he said, “(The) IVLP and YLAI programs have helped me define my life purpose.”
Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Office of Alumni Affairs recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Congratulations to Victor on being named August 2019’s Exchange Alumni Member of the Month! We look forward to seeing what he will do next.