April 22, 2021

Developing Compassion and Dreaming Big Because of Virtual Exchange

Aseel Nawafleh participated in Student to World: Art in Action during summer 2020 with her peers from Jubilee Institute in Amman, Jordan. Student to World is a virtual exchange program that engages youth in the U.S. and MENA. Youth explore global issues via activities, media resources, and stories created by their peers from around the world, and at the end of their journey, create an action plan to benefit their local and global communities. The Art in Action theme explores how art contributes to social movements and positive change. Other Student to World themes include Overcoming Bias, Pandemic, Global Hunger, Ocean Health, Human Rights, Women's Rights, Mental Health, and Sports.

Student to World demonstrates the power of virtual exchange, connecting youth who would not otherwise have exposure to the experiences of their global peers, opening their eyes, expanding their worldviews, and shifting their perspectives. Aseel describes a dramatic shift from how she was before her exchange and now. “Before this program, I was a typical Jordanian girl who never talked to someone outside her community, I barely used English as everyone I talked to speaks Arabic,” she said. “Over years, I was building this wall between myself and the world. I only knew about other countries and cultures from Wikipedia and the social media platforms I use.” When youth complete the Student to World program, they are invited to join the seat at the table program, a global community of teens that comes together to connect across distance and difference in meaningful ways. Since July, Aseel has attended over 24 hour-long seat at the table conversations – one of the most frequent participants. She also applied and was selected to be a member of the GNG Brain Trust, made up of youth representatives from 8 countries. The Brain Trust has bi-monthly meetings with GNG program staff and has worked individually and as a group to provide input on all aspects of the seat at the table program – from content, to user experience and functionality, to marketing and recruitment.

From her participation in these programs, Aseel has developed many valuable new skills and competencies, including global awareness, cross-cultural communication, and collaboration. Likewise, she reports that her experiences with both Student to World and seat at the table have developed her English proficiency, creativity, critical thinking, and leadership skills. “I can understand myself and my community in a better way now,” she said. “Communicating with people from different backgrounds and different personalities allows you to reflect on your own and understand it in a better way. This also helps you define the problems found, and defining the problem is the first step towards solving it.”

As an 11th-grader, Aseel is not yet sure where her career path will take her. However, her virtual exchange experiences have made her consider studying or working internationally. For Aseel, connecting with others has led not only to academic development but also to personal growth. She believes Student to World and seat at the table have made her a more compassionate person. “I believe that virtual exchange programs make us more compassionate. Talking to people from all around the world and [reading or] listening to their stories make you look at the world from a different perspective,” she said. “Due to the influence of the media, we usually link countries and cultures with politics, economics and stereotypes. However, when you listen to stories told by people from that country, you get to understand them and even relate to them. This influences our opinions and actions, making them more compassionate and more understanding.”

Overall, GNG programs have had a positive and unique impact on Aseel’s life. Her alumna status at such a young age highlights the way that virtual exchange provides a launching point for a lifelong opportunity for growth, to see the world and its humanity and to dream bigger.

“I would say that the biggest outcome is that [virtual exchange] has changed the way I think and look at things, I became more aware of the things happening in the world. It has made me dream bigger. This will definitely influence the decisions that I am to take in the future, without my participation things could’ve been way different,” she said.

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