Exchange Matters / November 15, 2022

My International Education Experience

November 14-18 is International Education Week. To celebrate, we asked our six Global Ties U.S. interns to share how their international education and exchange experiences have shaped their perspectives of the world. Below, these young professionals, many of whom are alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs (ExchangeAlumni), reflect on the foundational impact international education has had on their professional and personal development.

Kerent Benjumea, Communications Intern 

Kerent watches the sunset amidst miles of sand dunes in Umm al-Quwain, UAE.

My journey as an ExchangeAlumni began in 2019 when I was selected as a Gilman Scholar to study abroad in Amman, Jordan. As a student new to studying the Middle East, I had learned everything I knew about this region through textbooks, but I underestimated just how much my time abroad would influence my future. I felt deep connectivity with the people as soon as I touched down at Queen Alia airport. My first encounter was with the man who stamped my passport, who saw my last name and said, “you’re Jordanian,” to which I chuckled and said, “nope, just studying here.” He looked at me with a stern face and replied, “no, your last name, it’s Arab.” He was right, as I would come to find out in my Arabic classes. Through these small affirming interactions, my fascination and interest in the Middle East expanded beyond a cultural and linguistic appreciation. Unfortunately, I had to leave after three months due to COVID, but this short exposure to such a rich culture drove me to continue seeking these experiences. 

After graduating, I decided to pursue a Master’s in International Studies/ Middle East Studies. These same reaffirming feelings persisted as I was given opportunities to teach my own Arabic language classes and conduct research in the region. This winter, I will return to Jordan and continue studying Arabic. Three years ago, I left Jordan with a renewed appreciation for the people who showed me how hospitality and kindness transcend linguistic and cultural barriers. My time abroad inspired a passion for broadening and challenging my worldview, and showed me that this is truly the path I was meant to take. 

Keiko Huffman, Career Connections Intern 

Keiko visiting Brooklyn, New York in August 2022.

I was first introduced to Global Ties U.S. by a friend I made during the 2020 National Security Language Initiative for Youth Korean summer program. She knew of my interest in citizen diplomacy and thought the organization’s values closely aligned with my professional goals. When I saw that Global Ties U.S. was hiring interns for the fall semester, with an opportunity specifically to support alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs, I was eager to apply. I wanted to help other ExchangeAlumni create new connections and build upon their networks and experiences abroad through Global Ties U.S. events. The work Global Ties U.S. is doing to connect communities in the United States through international exchange is invaluable. Exchange is not only an amazing opportunity to learn about cultures and languages different from your own, but to form lifelong friendships and connections. The experience can introduce you to new opportunities and provide you with cultural awareness, communication, and adaptability skills that you can take with you in any of your future endeavors. 

Ezoza Ismailova, Exchanges Intern 

Ezoza (middle) at the U.S. Capitol Building with exchange participants from Ireland and North Ireland.

As a current Public Diplomacy and Global Communications Master’s candidate at Syracuse University, I am highly interested in how Global Ties U.S. fosters public and citizen diplomacy through its work. In my role as the Fall 2022 Exchange Programs intern, I have enjoyed partaking firsthand in that process by engaging with both in-person and virtual exchange participants. Specifically, I had the pleasure of accompanying participants from Ireland and Northern Ireland for meetings on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Department of State as part of the U.S. Foreign Policy Exchange Program. International and educational exchanges are powerful because the person-to-person interactions can create a long-lasting positive impact for all involved. 

Oko Khosbayar, Membership Intern 

Oko at a Fourth of July parade in Wichita, Kansas in 2016. Photo by the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute.

I went on two exchange programs when I was an undergraduate student: first to Thailand, through a student-run organization AIESEC, where I taught English; and then to the United States, through the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders. The two experiences absolutely made a huge impact on my life. Living with a host family and being treated like their daughter was a truly precious experience. I strongly believe no matter where you’re from, it is important to leave your community and see other parts of the world. Whether it be short or long-term, exploring other cultures opens your eyes and changes your perspectives.  

My experiences abroad inspired me to apply for a Master’s degree in Public Diplomacy and Global Communications at Syracuse University. As an international student, I would encourage anyone who is considering an experience abroad to go for it.  Even if you are scared or uncomfortable, you will grow so much from the experience. Take the leap. You will thank yourself later. 

Kristie Moore, Program & Events Intern 

Kristie in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in summer 2022 on the CLS Russian language program. In the background is the Bishkek Central Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Central Asia.

As an alumna of several exchange programs, including the National Security Language Initiative for Youth and Critical Language Scholarship programs, I have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and the world around me. My time abroad helped me realize the power of international exchange in fostering cross-cultural connection, mutual understanding, and positive long-term foreign relations. My own personal connection to this idea is what drew me to Global Ties U.S. I resonate with their focus on people-to-people interactions as a means of fostering better relations. I have had such a positive and fulfilling time interning at Global Ties U.S. having the opportunity to get involved in such meaningful work. I can’t wait to continue on my educational and career journey and see where my interests take me! 

AJ Ulwelling, Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund Intern 

A.J. collects sea glass in Batumi, Georgia during his study abroad on the Critical Language Scholarship.

I first became interested in interning at Global Ties U.S. when I learned about the value the organization places on global exchange and citizen diplomacy. As someone who has studied Russian in Chisinau, Moldova, through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship, and in Tbilisi, Georgia, through the Critical Language Scholarship, I have seen the impact of citizen exchanges firsthand. These programs have not only broadened my perspectives of the world and improved my language skills but also created a place for me to share about my culture and reshape narratives of life in the United States abroad. I love being the Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund Intern because it is a way for me to stay involved in the international community and see the impact of our citizen ambassadors and their projects across the world.