Announcing Christianson Fellows for Spring 2014

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Funding supports young Americans who are committed to helping solve important humanitarian issues around the world.

The InterExchange Foundation is pleased to announce the first three recipients of Christianson Fellowships in 2014. Two of our recipients will be working to support refugees' rights and a third will be contributing to English language and cultural learning.

Refugees' Rights

Jonathan G. began his work in Ecuador with Asylum Access Ecuador in September 2013. The Scotch Plains, New Jersey, native has been working in Lago Agrio, located in the northeast region of the Ecuador near the border of Colombia. Jonathan has provided free legal assistance in the form of help with Refugee Status Determination procedures, family reunifications and violations of labor rights to numerous Colombian refugees who have fled due to violent conflict stemming from guerrilla forces fighting with the Colombian government.

"When many people think of cultural exchange, they often picture big cities where all different types of people come together to interact with each other, sharing ideas and customs," he says. "Yet here in this small city in the sparsely populated northeast region of Ecuador, a similar cultural exchange is taking place. Whether I am learning with my coworkers to adjust to each other's professional norms, gaining a deeper knowledge of the daily lives of my clients, or having a friendly argument about culinary differences with my friends, I know that my time here will allow me to contribute to a greater cross-cultural understanding in this corner of the world."

Andrew D. has served as Volunteer Legal Advocate at Asylum Access Thailand since December 2013. In his role with the organization, he is utilizing his French-language skills to offer legal advice and assistance to refugees from French-speaking African nations who have moved to Thailand.

"In high school, I decided to learn the French language to be different from my older siblings, who were then studying Spanish. Eventually, with a little dedication to a newfound passion for language, I became fluent in French. What I did not realize, however, is that my conscious decision – to be different – opened up a new door to a world of people who need my help," the Queens resident says. "This group of people, French-speaking African refugees and asylum-seekers, flee their homes every day in order to save their lives and the lives of their family members. These people, unlike me, did not decide to be different. Refugees and asylum-seekers possess an immutable characteristic that is grounded in their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Refugees and asylum-seekers are singled out and persecuted because of this immutable characteristic that they cannot change. Because I decided to be different in high school, I am empowered with the communication skills to directly help these individuals, and their families, who can only communicate in the French language."

Because both Jonathan and Andrew's positions with Asylum Access are unpaid, they applied for the Christianson Fellowship through the InterExchange Foundation. With the financial support provided by this grant, these recipients are better able to improve the lives of people in need on a global scale.

English Language Development

Lee B. began serving as a program coordinator for the Arajuno Road Project in Puyo, Ecuador, in February 2014. The Arajuno Road Project provides educational opportunities to 10 small schools in the rural Arajuno region of Ecuador. Lee combines her Spanish-language skills acquired during travel in Mexico, Argentina and Chile with her strong background in education as an English teacher for Ecuadorian children. Lee also works as a liaison with local school directors, assists English teacher volunteers from around the world and monitors and records class progress.

"Teaching English abroad can contribute to better cross-cultural understanding anywhere," Lee says. "I see my work as part community service and part public diplomacy. I cannot represent my entire country while I am abroad, but I can act with integrity, honesty, and an open mind to demonstrate the diversity of American opinion."

The Christianson Fellowship has made it possible for Lee to aid the Arajuno Road Project by offsetting her personal expenses as well as the costs of travel insurance, airfare, housing and meals.

The next Christianson Fellowship deadline is July 15, 2014. Applicants are encouraged to visit the InterExchange Foundation website for more information. Grantees are awarded up to $10,000 in grant funding for international projects lasting six months or more.

InterExchange is a nonprofit organization committed to improving international understanding by facilitating life-changing, exceptional cultural exchange experiences for young people, businesses and families around the world. As both a J-1 Visa sponsor designated by the U.S. Department of State and a cross‐cultural ambassador, we develop meaningful relationships with participants from more than 60 countries as well as with international cooperating agencies, host employers and families. We ensure that all in our community are treated with respect and consideration and are supported by staff with firsthand experience living and working abroad.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation