I had a remarkable experience attending I-LEAD 2016. While my interest stemmed from looking to take a free trip to Washington, D.C, I ended up having a life-changing experience! I learned about others, about myself, and about the genesis and purpose of the J-1 program.
"Hi, I am Surabhi Khanderia from India. I am an architecture student, and I am doing my internship in Kansas City."
"No, it is pronounced Sur-bhi. It means fragrance in Hindi"
I said each of these phrases more than a hundred times in that week. Introducing myself and telling my story, became a big part of my own self-discovery.
The best part about the program that we were 58 J-1 interns from about 29 countries, who are interning all over the United states in different fields of study. I didn't even know that some of these fields existed! This really made me realize how small my world has been. Whenever we sat in a room together, I couldn't help but marvel at what the 58 individuals have been through. All of our collective knowledge and experiences, as well as cultural backgrounds, were so vast, rich, and exciting! I was proud to represent my country, India, and my field of study, architecture, in this room! Here is my day-by-day recount of the highlights of this trip.
Day 1: May 15, 2016
What is the J-1 program all about?
I reached Washington D.C. at noon, to meet a group of interns already gathered with a CIEE staff member. We went to the American University campus to check into our rooms and have lunch, which, by the way, was delicious! Since we had free time till 6:00 p.m., a group of us went to the zoo!
Our first gathering for dinner was at 6:00 p.m. Meghann Curtis, CIEE Executive Vice President, spoke about how the J-1 Visa program was first started to bring the world together after the two World Wars, and how the first funds to sponsor international people were raised by selling components of war devices and equipments. I found that really impressive and have been promoting the J-1 Visa ever since.
She went on to explain that there are so many problems today that the world is facing. Issues like migration, climate change, health, and more. She explained that not one country or one government can eradicate these problems from the world. So, the U.S. Department of State started I-LEAD to bring elite youth from all over the world to come together and think about these problems together from different perspectives. We felt very appreciated, as she commended us all for being bold to come out of our comfort zones to learn in USA.
Day 2: May 16, 2016
Intercultural learning through activities
The day started with breakfast in the Mary Gradon Hall. Once again, it was delicious. Today, we all were in groups of 10. I was in group five with Taylor Kay as our leadership guide. Then the sessions started with Rachel Greene's intercultural learning.
The key points of this session were to know yourselves, to know others, and then to bridge the gap by being empathetic. We did an activity where I told the person next to me the story of how I was named and vice versa. For the second part of the activity, we asked each other the following questions:
- Who do you want to have dinner with?
- Describe your perfect day.
- What is that one thing that you have dreamed of doing for a long time but haven't done yet? And why?
- Describe your most treasured memory.
- What, according to you, is friendship?
It was surprising how quickly I connected with Hayeong (my roommate for the week and partner for this exercise). The conversation that these questions triggered did not end there when the time was up. I was surprised how much I connected with a person who I had just met! The only disappointment after each exercise was that there was never enough time to talk and share. We had to stop when the time was up. However, we found time after 9:00 p.m. to gather and talk about things we couldn't complete during the sessions.
During lunch, we had a lecture by James Pellow, the CEO of CIEE. One of the questions asked of him was, "What do you expect from us?" He responded, "Greatness."
The best part of all the sessions was that we had a debrief in the end where we could share our stories, opinions, lessons, and feedback related to the session. Everyone was very open to constructive feedback.
Watching TED Talks in the evening
We watched three TED talks in the evening, and I learnt some important lessons from them! The talks discussed leadership, identity, and other important topics. After the TED talks, we had to convert our learnings into a play and perform, which was a lot of fun.
Be sure to check out part two of my story for more details!