IYLEP Blog Contest: Culture as an iceberg

Sana Aras won the IYLEP 2013 Reunion Blog contest with this essay.


Alumni of the 2013 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program reconnected this winter in Erbil. Alums from both the High School and Undergraduate programs gathered to reflect on their experiences and participate in workshops and panel discussions that built upon the skills students developed last summer in the U.S. Meridian invited IYLEP alumni to submit a blog post describing their personal experience and growth with the program. We selected the winning entries to post on The LEADSana Aras, featured here, was the winner for the IYLEP Undergraduate group.

Here I want to talk about my cross-cultural experience with the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). I want to explain the importance of understanding other cultures and the role that IYLEP played in my own understanding.

We can say that culture consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. Through culture, people and groups define themselves.

After 2003, when Iraq was released from the dictatorial system, many organizations and different programs wanted to create a connection between Iraqi and American culture. I believe they were very helpful in helping Iraqi youth to understand American culture in a positive way, especially the exchange programs such as IYLEP.

I believe that nowadays our society and community need to mix with other cultures and try to understand other societies’ beliefs, values, and cultures. When I decided to apply for IYLEP I really believed that IYLEP can be a very strong bridge between Iraq and America. The main goals of IYLEP were two important points:

First, IYLEP tried to choose participants from different Iraqi cities and from different religions and traditions.

That is the best decision and this program followed it closely. This program always tries for equality in choosing the participants from different cultures and IYLEP creates opportunities to all the participants to learn about new cultures through workshops and practical activities. For me, through the program, I had a good opportunity to get to know a lot of friends from different cities, cultures and traditions. We discussed and we exchanged our ideas and opinions about the positive and negative and common and different points in our cultures. Even in America I learned about the culture and lifestyles of people from other parts of Iraq. I learned how important it is to have experience and knowledge about other cultures so you can deal and behave with them more easily.

Another important part of the program was visiting an American family. This part was so great and important because we directly were dealing with American family and it was my first experience to talk with people from another culture. At first, I was so worried, but they were good and educated people. Our time visiting was too short, but it was another good chance to discuss a lot of topics about American culture. I could learn about and understand the American family deeply; I explained the questions that they asked me about my culture and country, and they explained everything that was not clear for me. It was so exciting to discover while we were talking about a certain subject that we could find common viewpoints between each other. I think that when you mix with another culture, you learn and understand it and find common points and positive points. And it is so important when you see that someone from another culture is eager to learn from your culture and respect your beliefs and values.

I learned this from the IYLEP program. Culture is like an iceberg that looks so small on top but if you look at the big part under the sea you realize that how culture is deep and complex. If you are eager to understand it, you should mix with the different people and exchange your opinion with them and respect each other’s culture.

During IYLEP, I learned that everyone has a special way of representing themselves. You have to try to adapt yourself to others, and you can find common points and do great jobs and common projects to promote your relationship with other cultures.

The second important part of the IYLEP program was leadership.

I think every successful leader should have the ability to understand other cultures and respect them. I want to discuss the relationship between leadership and culture.

I think that leaders should have the ability to listen to different opinions and have awareness to accept quick changes in the culture of society. They should listen to all different people from different traditions and religions and cultures in the community. Leaders and managers do not change the culture, they merely invite their people to change the culture through day-to-day behaviors. If inspired culture drives prosperity, inspired leaders drive inspired cultures.

I always like to read about leadership subject and improve my leadership skills and IYLEP gave me this chance to understand the role of leader and cultural change.

To conclude, I want to mention the word of Peter Drucker, who writes, “If you can direct yourself, you can direct the society.”