A combined total of 20.5 years abroad in 15 different countries. Eight foreign languages spoken. GlobalConnect division’s five new interns embody the diversity of backgrounds and cultural experiences Meridian emphasizes as the foundation for global leadership.
Exploring Cultural Outreach through YLAI
YLAI (Young Leaders of the Americas) Program Intern Alexandria Anderson also understands the importance of cross-cultural communication in community development. As an undergraduate at Spelman College, Anderson studied abroad in Cochabamba, Bolivia in a field studies-based program focused on multiculturalism, globalization, and social change. From potato farming with her host family to participating in a welcoming ceremony in a rural village of 12 families (pictured below), Anderson got a taste of local life in Bolivia.
“I didn’t share a common language with my host family, but we communicated in ways that are unimaginable,” Anderson said, “What I once thought was a nightly walk through the tall grasses of their fields, was in fact a gracious tour of the bathroom before I was to return to bed in the barn!”
During her internship, Anderson hopes to explore Meridian’s role in professional exchange programs, specifically how Meridian can facilitate exchange of innovative ideas within the YLAI program.
Helping Hands for IYLEP
As Meridian prepares to host this year’s IYLEP (Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program), GlobalConnect IYLEP Program Intern Luke Allen brushes up on his Arabic skills. Allen has spent a total of 5 years in the Middle East, earning his high school diploma in Bahrain and traveling throughout Qatar, Oman and the UAE. Though he has yet to travel to Iraq, his cultural knowledge of the Middle East and desire to pursue a career in conflict resolution motivated him to work with this year’s cohort of IYLEP Iraqi undergraduate students.
“No matter how much the media or other sensationalized sources attempt to create a ‘war of cultures’ narrative between the followers of Islam and the West,” Allen said, “the reality is that in our cultures and as humans we have many more shared values than we do differences. I think that this becomes quite obvious when people from both cultures are brought together through exchange and cross-cultural communication.”
Orchestrating “Culture Shocks”
After two years as a full time volunteer representative for the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) church in Taipei, Taiwan and three weeks as a volunteer in Mali building schools, Programs Intern Andrew Meeks is well-versed in cultural exchanges. But even the most cosmopolitan interns encounter culture shock. Meeks cites one of his first meals with a Taiwanese family as one of his most vivid culture shocks.
“They brought out the food and they had chicken feet and chicken heads mixed in with everything else. Everyone was laughing and putting this stuff on my plate. I looked to the other missionary I was with and he told me that I had to eat it or it would be impolite,” Meeks said. It wasn’t until after chowing down on a few chicken heads (see picture below) that Meeks found out this was an annual practical joke the Taiwanese family played on new missionaries.
Now, keeping his unique cultural experiences in mind, Meeks helps Program Officers orchestrate the day-to-day details of international exchanges, usually sans chicken heads.
Universal Standards for Financial Practice
GlobalConnect Finance Intern Akram Ben Halima is spending his second exchange in the U.S. attending American University’s Washington Semester Program. For the past two years he has been traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Tunisia, his home country—which coincidentally, he says, people mistake for Indonesia and don’t believe he’s from Africa.
Ben Halima believes that finance work is the core of a successful nonprofit enterprise and hopes to use the fundamental skills he’s learning in his studies and at Meridian to pursue a career in a large consulting corporation like PwC or Deloitte.
Striking up a Conversation
Programs Intern Anthony Sudarwaman has a trick for meeting new friends abroad. A self-designated “international nomad”, he chose to split his studies and travel time between Indonesia, Singapore, France and the U.S. During his travel, he took to carrying a cigarette lighter to strike up conversations with strangers who needed a light. Cultural differences are everywhere, Sudarwaman said, but some habits transcend boundaries. He values the same cultural diversity in Meridian’s work culture.
“The best thing about Meridian is working with people from different backgrounds,” Sudarwaman said, “It allows you to see one problem from lots of different perspectives.” With a Master’s degree in Quantitative Political Science, Sudarwaman hopes to pursue a career in international development, attracted to the challenges of the shifting political, economic and cultural changes in the international development environment.
French Baking in Shanghai
I, Alison Bartel, am the GlobalConnect Marketing and Communications intern and the author of this blog post. Prior to my time at Meridian, I learned most of my relevant communications skills in a kitchen on the outskirts of Shanghai, China. As Marketing and Promotion Coordinator for Chi Heng Foundation’s Shanghai Young Bakers Project, I helped raise awareness for their unique program which lifted marginalized Chinese youth out of poverty by teaching them French bakery vocational skills. It was in this position that I learned how to tell the stories of students who came from small countryside villages and developed into world class baguette masters (real story).I hope to use my experiences to tell Meridian’s story and the stories of its exchange groups and partners.