The I-LEAD (Intern Leadership Enrichment and Development) program is an exciting new feature of the J-1 intern visa program. Interns can apply to participate in this innovative, intensive six-day leadership course funded by the U.S. Department of State. The most recent program was held in Seattle, Washington, where J-1 interns training in many different fields across the U.S. gathered to meet and learn. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend one day of the program.
The curriculum was designed to help participants think about how they can make a positive impact in the world. It was inspiring to listen to this amazing group learn about themselves and the world and come up with innovative ideas. Their enthusiasm, combined with the fascinating opportunities provided by the program, made for an exciting day.
The day started with a journaling exercise to encourage the interns to learn more about themselves and become effective leaders. The interns reflected on what they learned the previous day, their interactions with fellow interns, and which qualities they exhibited during exercises. The discussion that followed delved into cultural values and how they can vary between countries, offices, and individuals. Recognizing these differences and how different values can affect relationships is one step towards better communication and leadership.
Next, we listened to a talk from a mentor from Ashoka who spoke about the values of social entrepreneurship. The interns then participated in a fascinating exercise to brainstorm how they could use their passions and interests to make an impact on the problems they see in the world. The room was split into groups and each group chose one problem and explored its different aspects. Then each problem was presented and everybody chose the problem they would like to work on for the rest of the program. The interns focused on some difficult issues: social inequality, racism, the refugee crisis, and lack of access to education. Afterward, the interns took part in a trust exercise designed to encourage further self-recognition.
In the afternoon we visited a startup incubator, Startup Hall, housed in the University of Washington and asked questions to a panel of startup CEOs. This was particularly interesting to watch, as the CEOs were exhibiting some of the very leadership qualities that were discussed earlier in the day. They were creative thinkers who learned to communicate their projects with passion and skill. The interns were allowed over an hour to ask questions and seek advice. We covered a wide variety of topics and everyone was buzzing by the time we left.
The day ended with a documentary, followed by a discussion over dinner. The amount of activities packed into a single day of this six-day program was amazing. I found myself envious of the participants who were able to spend the full week and I would urge all J-1 interns who have the chance to apply for future I-LEAD programs!