Carlo (CJ) Aragon’s exchange journey started with a simple childhood fascination with Ancient Egypt. After a family trip to the land of the pharaohs in 2007, CJ describes how he “fell deeply in love with Arab culture, Islamic history, and the Middle East.” Seizing this passion for the Arabic language and culture, CJ participated in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) twice, in Cairo, Egypt and Rabat, Morocco. He routinely cites NSLI-Y as the catalyst for his interest in Arabic studies and cross-cultural understanding, subsequently pursuing other federally-funded language study opportunities including the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), and the Boren Fellowship.
Photo Credit, National Security Language Initiative for Youth
Since his return from the NSLI-Y program, CJ has been committed to using his exchange experience to give back to his community while combating negative stereotypes against Arabic culture in his home state of New Mexico. He credits his NSLI-Y and subsequent experiences abroad with allowing him to “view the world through multiple lenses and ideologies.” This greater understanding, he believes, has led to higher levels of cultural sensibility which he hopes to extend to others in his community. After returning from his first NSLI-Y program, CJ organized an “International Day” at his Albuquerque, NM high school to celebrate world languages, cultures, and related traditions. This has since become an annual event promoting global understanding. He also interns at the Center for Refugee Settlement and Support where he uses his NSLI-Y experience to make substantial contributions to the Arabic-speaking refugee community in New Mexico. Although challenging at times, CJ notes that his work with refugee resettlement has left a profound impact on his life, providing him with the opportunity to use his linguistic and cultural knowledge of the Middle East to make a real difference in people’s lives.
In addition to promoting intercultural tolerance and global understanding in New Mexico, CJ has been instrumental in promoting global international exchange opportunities and building a strong alumni network. As an inaugural NSLI-Y Alumni Representative, CJ has organized a number of events with fellow International Exchange Alumni from across programs. This includes a networking opportunity which CJ organized with the Diplomat in Residence at the University of New Mexico to promote awareness of future educational and professional opportunities. He has also organized an event for alumni in which participants networked at an international art festival and had an opportunity to apply their language skills as translators for Arabic-speaking artisans. Additionally, he consistently gives presentations about exchange opportunities to local schools and groups and mentors potential applicants, with a particular focus on low income/ minority students since he believes they have the most to gain and grow from a NSLI-Y experience. As a direct result of his efforts, the NSLI-Y program saw a tangible increase in the number of applicants from New Mexico.
Through the work he has done to promote international education and global understanding of different cultures and languages, CJ has truly embraced what it means to be a citizen diplomat.