Meeting Global Empresses

A blog written by Empress Isabela Reyes-Klein, about a youth leadership exchange at a Girlmade Workshop.

Friendship bracelets we made for our new friends from Korea and Japan!Last year in August I was fortunate enough to be a part of a World Learning Youth Leadership exchange that was funded by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by World Learning. This was my first time ever meeting students my age from countries other than the United States.

Pictures of our new friends writing stories with all picturesAll the girls who were selected for the exchange were chosen for their strong desire to improve their community and focus on solving global issues. The students from South Korea and Japan were 16–18 years old and went through a competitive application process to insure the group at hand had a hunger for learning and a thirst for making a difference in the lives of the people around them. Needless to say we were fast friends.

While sitting down for lunch, many of my new friends started drawing on the paper covering the tables, with no direction, writing each other kind notes in their native language.

We went through the day with an interactive leadership building session lead by the CIO of the Reno based company Girlmade, and our skills flourished right in step with our friendships. I knew the term “ohhing and ahhing” but I had never heard people actually say “ohhh,” or “ahhh” when watching a video that the Girlmade team put together at the end of the day, they laughed and cheered with excitement for every one of their friends who was on screen.

As we sat down to brainstorm for the workshop about solving issues in our communities, the tone quickly shifted from jovial to serious deliberation and ideation on implementing a plan to help bring their communities together to solve even bigger problems. I remember that one of my friends from South Korea was asking for feedback on her plan to petition for visitation days for defectors in North and South Korea, since her family, and many others had been split by the divide, and unable to consistently communicate with each other. Another friend of mine, who everyone called E.T. wanted her friends from school to have the opportunity to learn more about kids her own age in different countries across the planet, not just through social media, which she said connected people and made it easier, but still lacked the ability for people to be able to tangibly experience, at least a little bit of different cultures.

This is when we first discussed Culture CrateI heard her plan and we started working on an idea and finally decided on a name; Culture Crate. We would take a box, fill it with non perishable snacks, candies, toys, photos, music, and lists of shows that we watched, pack them up, then send them to one person in another country. We ended up keeping in contact after she left, and the box went from Japan to the U.S. and then to South Korea. E.T. said that the students were so excited to learn about each other, and it felt like they got to see a little bit of our country.

This is a picture my friend ET drew of the two of us!All in all, this experience helped me make amazing friends, and really inspired me to hear these girls who were my age talk about making such huge changes in their lives, and in the lives of the people around them. I felt inspired to make just as big a change, and always approach other cultures with the same open mind that my friends from Japan and South Korea brought when they visited us.
One of my favorite quotes is from one student we met during the program, and she said “Every time (not sometimes) you need to get rid of stereotypes and talk to people with an open mind, this was the most useful thing I have ever learned.”
I couldn’t agree more.

Photos courtesy of Girlmade

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