Building a Digital Community of Young Changemakers

This year, The Experiment added a new virtual exchange program to its portfolio. The Experiment Digital* helps high school students across the world connect without leaving their living rooms. This two-month virtual exchange encourages young people in the United States and the Middle East to get to know each other through videos, discussion forums, online chats, webinars, games, and even creating poetry that challenges cultural stereotypes. As they make new friendships across cultures, students also discover ways to make change in their communities.

*The Experiment Digital is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute.

Creating Global Communities for Professionals

The Digital Communication Network (DCN) is dedicated to building a strong global information ecosystem of likeminded journalists, entrepreneurs, lawmakers, civil society leaders, and communications specialists across Europe and Central Asia. These professionals join together through exchanges, forums, conferences, fellowships, training programs, and more to share information on key issues facing communicators today—from the role of digital influencers to the proliferation of “fake” news.

This network was born out of Professional Fellows On-Demand, an exchange program through which professionals gain insight into challenges in their fields. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding from the U.S. government and implemented by World Learning. In 2015, Professional Fellows On-Demand administered a grant to several program alumni who ultimately founded DCN, which has grown significantly in the time since.

“The program was perfectly designed to give us courage and motivation to explore new things, connect with people, and grab new opportunities. It was the best exchange program I have ever participated in.”
— DCN Fall 2018 U.S. Exchange Participant

Cultivating Community in the Classroom

There’s a special sense of community among SIT Graduate Institute students. Students in our master’s degree and certificate programs—which are rooted in experiential education—cultivate close ties they’ll be able to rely on for support throughout their careers.

In August, the graduates at SIT’s master’s degree conferral ceremony in Washington, DC, made clear the importance of their new relationships. Speaking from the podium, Michael Keel told his classmates in the Sustainable Development program that they had shown him the true purpose of his chosen career. “Sustainable development is about people,” he said. “It’s about all of us. It’s about taking care of people and lifting each other up.”

“The people who get the most done, for themselves and for the world, are the people who have networks that support them, and networks that they support.”
— Ian Fisk, executive director of the Mentor Capital Network and keynote speaker at SIT’s 2019 degree conferral ceremony

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Creating Safe Spaces for Children in Chile

Alexia Paz loves serving her community of Iquique, Chile, whether through beach clean-ups, visiting with senior citizens, or volunteering at animal shelters. Hoping to learn how to do so even more effectively, Alexia joined the Youth Ambassadors Program.

The Youth Ambassadors Program* brings together high school students and adult mentors from across the Western Hemisphere for exchanges to the United States that promote mutual understanding, increase leadership skills, and prepare youth to make a difference in their communities.

Alexia found inspiration for her next project during her U.S. exchange: She plans to create a healthy space for children ages 4 to 12 to take a break from their problems through games and fun activities.

“I’m learning values. I’m learning how to make those values work. I’m learning how to be useful in my community.”
— Alexia Paz, Youth Ambassadors Program participant

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Cultivating a Culture of Recycling in Iraq

Meer Mohammed hated to see trash littering the streets of his hometown, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. So, this high school student founded a service organization that undertakes various recycling campaigns, including installing recycling bins at the University of Sulaimani.

He did so with the help of a small grant that World Learning awarded to alumni of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP).** IYLEP brings Iraqi high school and undergraduate students to the U.S. for exchanges that develop their leadership and peacebuilding skills. Students volunteer in their U.S. host communities—then, like Meer, return home more engaged than ever.

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Campaigning to End Bullying in Mexico

Bullying is pervasive in Valeria Fonseca Jimenez’s community of Querétaro, Mexico. That’s why she’s launching an anti-bullying campaign to raise awareness of the problem and help kids who suffer from bullying. This project arose from Valeria’s participation in Jóvenes en Acción, a civic education and leadership program for students from diverse communities throughout Mexico. The program begins with a four-week U.S. exchange before participants return home to carry out projects. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City with funding provided by the U.S. government, La Secretaría de Educación Pública, and private funders.

“I joined Jóvenes en Acción because I want to make a change in my community. I want people to feel heard and to know that we can do something.”
— Valeria Fonseca Jimenez, Jóvenes en Acción participant

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Reciprocity in Action

Ten years ago, children in Bolivia didn’t have many options to read about their own cultural heritage. Bookstores and libraries mainly stocked translations of foreign titles like Cinderella rather than books written for Bolivian audiences.

Kids’ Books Bolivia has changed that. Founded in 2008—when two SIT Study Abroad students wrote a children’s book about their host mother’s childhood for their Independent Study Project (ISP)—Kids’ Books Bolivia is a collection of bilingual children’s books written entirely by SIT students. It’s a natural fit for SIT’s Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization, and Social Change program, which challenges students to examine cultural identity in Bolivia as they find ways to engage with their host community.

Kids’ Books Bolivia has been a clear success. It now comprises 47 titles that can be found in libraries across the city of Cochabamba. SIT students work with the community to develop book ideas, and not only do the student volunteers write the books, they also read them aloud to schoolchildren.

“It’s easy to discuss reciprocity, and it’s something else to see reciprocity in action.”
— Aliya Ellenby, project coordinator of Kids’ Books Bolivia

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Go to Learn, not to Teach

World Learning Inc.’s ethos—going abroad to learn, not to teach—is personified in the case of Hadi El Rabbat, an alumnus of two SIT Study Abroad programs, including the International Honors Program (IHP) Health and Communities: Globalization, Culture, and Care, which took him to China, South Africa, and India.

El Rabbat is returning to India as an Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow, a program in which SIT Study Abroad alumni carry out community-based projects that promote human rights. El Rabbat plans to build a research and education center with the Rangkal tribe, whose culture and traditions are endangered as modern development has begun to take root in the region. El Rabbat envisions a space where people can gather and share their knowledge, which he can help archive both on paper and digitally.

“The purpose of my being is to protect Mother Earth. My dream is to do that from the roots, to serve people as a light. They are the knowledge keepers.”
— Hadi El Rabbat, IHP alumnus

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* This program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding from the U.S. government.
** This program is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Department of State with funding from the U.S. government.



Transforming Conflict in Southern Vermont

SIT alumna and adjunct professor Suzanne Belleci first learned about restorative justice while living on Pohnpei, an island in Micronesia, where she joined a weeklong community healing ritual after the murder of a young islander. Intrigued, she then set out to learn about global indigenous restorative justice practices in Rwanda, Iraq, and beyond. Today, Belleci practices what she learned as director of the Great Falls Community Justice Center in southern Vermont.

Restorative justice is an alternative to the traditional western criminal justice system, bringing together the victim, perpetrator, and community members to understand what happened, why, and what could make things right. “We could wait all day for Washington and Montpelier to solve our problems,” Belleci says. “But we have the resources within our own villages to begin now.”

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Building Communities of Hope in Philadelphia

Communities across the United States are grappling with an opioid crisis that is still too little understood. In Philadelphia, one young artist is shifting the narrative around addiction by telling the stories of those who suffer from it.

In September, Amanda Shaffern debuted Siren Songs, a theatrical production exploring addiction through the real stories of seven people on the road to recovery. An alumna of a U.S. Department of State exchange program, Shaffern created the show after attending an Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES)*, implemented by World Learning, titled “Building Communities of Hope: Collective Action to Tackle Addiction.” Siren Songs was funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.

“So often, we are taught to turn away from helping those in need,” Shaffern says. “Through Siren Songs, we hope to create a safe, truthful show in order to help the community.”

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Defining the True Meaning of Leadership

For Ryan Rodriguez, traveling to India with The Experiment Leadership Institute in 2017 was an opportunity to learn more about himself and how he could support his various communities—whether formed through activities like Model UN or his identities as an LGBTQ+ Puerto Rican person from Chicago. In high school, inspired by The Experiment, Rodriguez led a campaign to educate his classmates about Puerto Rico and collect donations in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. Now, as a student at Florida International University, he continues to advocate for the things he cares about. Here, Rodriguez shares his definition of leadership:

“Leadership is being the best individual that you can, using your identity, your community, and all of your resilience. If everybody is leading their own lives and living the best version of themselves, there’s no need for this concept of leaders and followers. We know when to lead a group—and we also know when to support people and be an ally. And we use all of our life experiences and our identities to propel our communities forward and lead them in that process.”

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Youth Exchange

In 2019, a group of high school students had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for cultural discovery through The Experiment in International Living. During their four weeks in India, the students traveled to the northern city of Dharamsala, home to the Tibetan government-in-exile. There, they had the chance to learn about Tibetan culture and healing practices from none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

“We sat in happy attention as he spoke on a range of subjects: the importance of the preservation of Tibetan culture and language, the necessity of a holistic perspective of health that includes mental and physical well-being, and the importance of lifelong learning, critical thinking, and logic.…Afterwards, we recollected our strongest impressions from his teachings, including a call for living with compassion, nonviolence, and peace.”
— Group Leaders, India: Indian Culture & Traditions

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Academic Exchange

Global citizenship is critical for students to excel in work and life. World Learning works with higher education institutions, preparing their students to be global citizens through academic exchanges that help students understand and respect their commonalities and differences.

The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD)* brings future leaders from all over the world to study and share their cultures at U.S. universities.

World Learning has seen Global UGRAD enrich academic life at our partner universities. At Bennett College in North Carolina—where international student enrollment has risen through Global UGRAD—hosting a student from the Palestinian Territories inspired the development of a new course examining issues in the Middle East.

“International students provide an amazing perspective on their country, their culture, and their faith if they belong to a different faith group than ours. What they bring to the campus, you can’t buy those kinds of things.”
— Kelly Mallari, director of the Bennett College Center for Global Studies

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Professional Exchange

The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP)* brings emerging leaders from more than 140 countries to the U.S. to share ideas, learn best practices, and build their professional networks.

Cross-cultural exchange is also key. IVLP’s Home Hospitality program allows participants to get to know their host communities, even celebrating U.S. holidays with citizens and one another.

“I didn’t see any differences among us. We all love, work, eat, sleep, travel, and think in the same way. Home Hospitality gives people a chance to see these similarities and contributes to building bridges among us.”
— Monika Chochla, a participant from Poland in IVLP’s Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation exchange



Not Your Ordinary Study Abroad

SIT Study Abroad continually seeks new ways to help undergraduate students in our accredited semester and summer programs better understand the world. In 2019, SIT Mongolia launched a new and unique cultural experience: an excursion to Siberia, an extraordinarily beautiful (and cold) region of Russia.

SIT Mongolia and Siberia: Nomadism, Geopolitics, and the Environment offers students a deeper understanding of Mongolia by learning about its cultural commonalities and differences with its neighbor. This excursion to the Lake Baikal region—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—ties into the program’s main themes of geopolitics, development, pastoralism, and natural resource management.

The best way to get to know another culture is by learning its language

SIT Study Abroad immerses students in languages they won’t find on any other program.

Our languages include:
Afrikaans, Arabic, Asante Twi, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, Hindi, Icelandic, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, Luganda, Malagasy, Mongolian, Nepali, Pidgin English, Portuguese, Quechua, Samoan, Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian, Spanish, Tibetan, Vietnamese, and Wolof.

Graduate Degrees with a Global Edge

SIT Graduate Institute had something special to celebrate at commencement this year: the first class of graduates in our new global master’s format.

SIT launched its Climate Change and Global Sustainability master’s degree last fall. Taught entirely abroad, the program offers a range of issues-based courses and hands-on fieldwork in Iceland and Tanzania, countries that provide a diverse look at climate change in the communities that are most affected.

For Cass Madden, who previously studied abroad with SIT Peru, joining the program was a no-brainer. She knew getting a master’s degree through SIT would be academically rigorous, providing her with both a deeper understanding of climate change and the real-world experience necessary to pursue a career working with indigenous people globally.

And it did: For her practicum, Madden worked with an organization in Peru to create a spatial model of an agricultural “park” of indigenous communities that have brought the potato back to prominence.

“I really liked the idea of being able to spend time abroad as a graduate student; it’s what SIT does well,” Madden says. “This is a new model for a master’s degree, but I had faith that SIT’s many years of experience running programs abroad meant the program would be well-run and thoughtful.”

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2018–2019 SIT Graduate Institute Programs

Full-time Master’s Programs

  • Climate Change and Global Sustainability
  • Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management
  • International Education
  • Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation
  • Sustainable Development

Hybrid Master’s Programs (Washington, DC)

  • Sustainable Development

Low-Residency Master’s Programs

  • International Education
  • Peace & Justice Leadership
  • Sustainable Development

Professional Certificates

  • International Education



A Reflection on Experiential Learning by Program Officer Sean Mooney

I walked into The Waterman’s Wharf exhibit at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, and found myself in a profoundly familiar setting: I could hear the breeze rustling the tall grass just outside the exhibit. I noticed the open crab pots on the ground, full of molting blue crabs.

Just a few days earlier I was pulling a crab pot to the surface from a nearby dock, scooping “peelers” and “busters” (the stages of blue crab molting) out of climate-controlled tubs.

I had not only learned about the cultural heritage of the Chesapeake Bay; I had experienced it for myself.

I was traveling with Saving What Matters, a Communities Connecting Heritage (CCH) project carried out jointly by cultural heritage organizations in Maryland and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government, CCH pairs organizations from the U.S. and abroad to carry out cultural preservation projects.

Experiential learning was key to Saving What Matters. Instead of being told about the traditional way of life, our participants were able to feel, smell, taste, hear, and see how these communities are preserving the maritime cultural heritage of the bay in their day-to-day lives.

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Learning to Live Together by Living Together

Time and again, our alumni tell us that homestays are transformative. In 2019, The Experiment designed a custom program to Costa Rica for The Fellowship Initiative, a college prep program for young men of color sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. Justice Vincent, a participant from New York City, says his homestay changed his entire outlook:

“When I was leaving, both my tia and my abuela started tearing up. That hit home. It’s been engrained in me now, the values in their culture and in their home to always be open. It reminds me of Bob Marley—he would leave his door open for anyone. I’m not saying I’m going to literally leave my door open, but in more of a metaphorical way: If you need something, even if you’re not my family or my friend, I’ll give it to you.”


Samantha Trotter, an anthropology major at Oregon State University, was drawn to SIT Study Abroad’s Cameroon: Development and Social Change program for its experiential nature. The program offered excursions—like gliding down a river in a hollowed-out tree and hiking to see the country’s oldest and largest tree—as well as the homestays in urban and rural areas of the country.




Promoting Global Stability

Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia is one of World Learning’s many programs that contribute to global stability through intercultural exchange. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, LEAD Mongolia provides emerging democratic champions with leadership training and civic engagement skills.

LEAD Mongolia fellows visit the U.S. to learn how its democracy was founded and how it is sustained today. These visits have exponential benefits for the global community. Fellows return better equipped to advocate for their own young democracy and having built relationships with U.S. citizens. Exchanges also provide an occasion for residents in towns like Staunton, Virginia, to learn about Mongolian culture—a valuable opportunity, according to Staunton Mayor Carolyn Dull. “To hope for a more perfect union, you’ve got to know each other,” she says. “You can’t stay strangers.”

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A Q&A with Harry Myo Lin

Harry Myo Lin believes intercultural understanding is critical to building peace in Myanmar. Recognized by TIME magazine as one of eight young leaders shaping the coming decade, he has been promoting interfaith dialogue since conflict broke out in his country in 2012.

Harry is also a World Learning and SIT alumnus. In 2013, he joined World Learning as a trainer at the U.S. Department of State-funded Institute for Political and Civic Engagement (iPACE), leading courses in conflict transformation and more. Then, in 2014, he participated in SIT’s Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) summer peacebuilding program. Here, he shares his experiences:

Why should people study at iPACE?
iPACE is still the only institution in Myanmar that within four to five weeks can build up certain skills that are needed for people who are working on civic engagement and peacebuilding. It’s a very effective program. iPACE also has a huge network; it brings together people from different parts of Myanmar.

What about CONTACT?
CONTACT is a life-changing experience. It creates a lot of opportunity and links your experience and skill with theoretical approaches. In a short time, they teach a lot about peacebuilding—and experiential and cross-cultural learning. It also brings a good diversity of people to learn about cultural differences, teaching sympathy to people in the same field from different countries.

How did that change your work?
CONTACT made me think more about sustainable approaches to peacebuilding. I co-founded an organization together with a CONTACT alumnus to reach out to different faith communities and I also started to do more policy work, reaching out to decisionmakers so they could take steps to overcome structural problems and build a sustainable peace.

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Soft Skills for Peacebuilding

Soft skills—like empathy, dialogue, and intercultural communication—make it possible for people like Harry Myo Lin and his CONTACT classmates to understand each other. Dr. Bruce Dayton, executive director of CONTACT and chair of SIT master’s programs in Peace and Justice Leadership and Diplomacy and International Relations, says soft skills are integral to his curricula: “Soft skills help people understand one another’s experiences and recognize that truth is often subjective, an important starting point for conflict transformation.”



Q&A with Sonny Singh, SIT Social Justice Education Specialist

Tell us about your new role.
I’m tasked with trying to equip our staff around the world with the knowledge, skills, and space for dialogue and understanding so they can better support and challenge our students with regards to social justice issues. Our staff need to be able to provide students the context for how these issues of power and privilege and oppression are playing out in their countries. But they also need to understand what these conversations are like on U.S. campuses.

How will you be working with our academic directors and staff?
[My goal is] to make sure the leadership of SIT is on the same page when it comes to both our language and analysis of various systems of oppression. [We will be] building relationships and learning from the folks who have been doing this work for a long time. Then, together, we’ll identify the gaps and how we can do better.

Why SIT?
Challenges related to race, gender, class, sexuality, and disability are really important and really urgent. It’s exciting to work at an institution that’s prioritizing these issues.


Q&A with Juanita Adames, World Learning Social Inclusion Officer

What’s the importance of inclusion in global development and exchange programs?
Including new voices gets to the core of development—you can’t solve international problems if you’re not reaching all communities. It’s on us to make sure they have access, agency, and power to participate. It’s not on them, it’s on us.

What sets World Learning’s approach to inclusion apart from others?
Its intentionality and focus on bias. So many people think that they’re being inclusive without recognizing how their own biases affect those efforts. World Learning took a really innovative and challenging approach with the launch of the Transforming Agency, Access, and Power (TAAP) Toolkit, which is designed to help you identify those biases and how they will affect your programming. If you are privileged, you don’t necessarily see the gaps that affect excluded communities.

How are you integrating the TAAP Toolkit into World Learning’s programs?
Right now, World Learning is doing a lot of internal staff training. This is really important; we are only as inclusive as our staff. We’ve launched an Introduction to TAAP brown bag series, getting everybody’s feet wet with the idea and pushing forward meaningful, inclusive programs that matter and make a difference. We also have a TAAP Community of Practice, which has 79 members across the international development community, to move forward meaningful methodologies in the social inclusion space.

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Taskforce

World Learning’s DEI Taskforce works to strengthen the reflection of our core values in our operations and workplace culture. Program Officer Kareen Ross says 2019 has been a building year for the group, which has held discussions on topics like gender and the TAAP Toolkit to better understand what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to staff members.

Next, the taskforce will hire a consultant and undertake a staff survey and focus groups—efforts that will inform World Learning’s strategy for the coming fiscal year.

Ross says this work is essential to positioning World Learning as a leader in its field. “We’re living in a time in which society has a deeper understanding of history and its impacts—who has been left behind, who holds power, and why and how groups and resources have been marginalized and exploited,” they say. “Our core values reflect our concern for society as a whole.”



Learning How to Fight for What’s Right in South Africa

History repeats itself. Sierra Randolph-Azim had always heard that phrase growing up, but she didn’t fully understand what it meant until she visited South Africa this summer with The Experiment in International Living. On the South Africa: Leadership & Social Change program, students learn about the country’s racist history and the anti-apartheid movement through hands-on experiences like a visit to the Apartheid Museum.

Randolph-Azim returned home inspired to stop the vicious cycle of racism. As she told Jeanette Lam, World Learning’s Digital Media Fellow who captured the program through photos and video: “Leadership and social change means being willing to put yourself out there no matter the consequences. You have to be brave enough to fight for what you believe is right. I will be brave enough when I get home to fight for what I believe is right.”

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Promoting Open Governance in Minnesota

Can an SIT Study Abroad program lead to more inclusive governance in the United States? Jaime Tincher, deputy mayor of the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, says yes.

In 1997, Tincher, a junior at Denison University, traveled to Mexico with SIT. There, she became fascinated with politics and power dynamics and was particularly inspired by the program’s perspective on class disparities and racism. “I saw more clearly the barriers that prevented people from participating in the system,” she says. “I wanted to help create opportunities for those who were historically left out.”

Those lessons still resonate. As deputy mayor, Tincher manages the daily operations of Saint Paul’s government—and strives to ensure policy decisions are made with greater participation from the larger community.

“Politics and government are not just about votes and hearings,” she says. “Understanding the diverse needs of people and connecting with those who have traditionally been left out of the political system are incredibly valuable.”

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Learning the Language of Empowerment

When Shinichiro Matsuguma came to SIT in 2012 for his master’s degree in TESOL, his intention was to return to Japan to become a teacher. Instead, SIT’s experiential learning approach laid the foundation for a different profession. Today, “Shin,” as he likes to be called, has a PhD in positive psychology and directs the Strength Association, a group he founded to work with Japan’s hikikomori, socially isolated youth who often don’t leave their houses for years at a time. Suicide rates among this group are extremely high. “SIT didn’t just teach us how to teach English effectively, but also how to empower people through experiential learning,” Shin says. That’s the basis for his approach, which focuses on his patients’ strengths. For example, because most of his clients play videogames, he often talks with them about their play styles and motivations to identify strengths such as teamwork, strategy, or leadership.

“They come to see their own experiences as a learning opportunity and they develop their strength while they’re having that experience, whether it’s real or virtual.”



Disability Rights Advocacy in Belarus

How can public spaces become more accessible to people with disabilities? In July, World Learning brought 11 Belarusian disability rights advocates to the United States to investigate that question through the Community Connections Belarus program. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the program brings together professionals from Belarus with U.S. counterparts to build networks and share best practices in a variety of fields.

In this particular exchange, participants gained key insights into protecting the rights and dignity of people with all abilities.

“I was hoping to explore the best practices for designing accessible, barrier-free urban environments for people with disabilities,” says participant Aliaksei Kurt-Nazarau. “Thanks to this program, I’ve seen how an environment that enables people of all abilities to move and function freely and safely should be designed and executed. I will make every effort to replicate this experience in Belarus.”

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Combating Gender-Based Violence in Myanmar

Violence against women is a serious problem in Myanmar, yet troubling gaps remain in providing services for survivors. Walking the Walk on Combating Gender-Based Violence in Myanmar, funded by the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, set out to change this by training civil society organizations to better serve survivors and advocate for an end to gender-based violence.

World Learning led the trainings at the Institute for Political and Civic Engagement (iPACE) and administered small grants to participants like women’s rights activist Soe Soe Khaing, who used the funds to host a series of awareness trainings for 154 teenagers. “iPACE’s gender-based violence course enhanced my confidence to teach clear messages about gender stereotypes,” she says.

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Human Rights Across the Globe

Uprooting oppression and affirming human dignity starts with understanding. SIT Study Abroad invites students to compare and contrast critical issues through the International Honors Program (IHP), semester-long programs that explore specific issues across four continents. Through the years, our alumni have shared with us how the IHP Human Rights: Movements, Power, and Resistance program—which focuses on human rights movements in Chile, Nepal, Jordan, and the U.S.—has made a difference in their lives and encouraged them to pursue a more inclusive and just world.

“The program was a mind-blowing experience for me. I realized that for a large part of my life I had been in a kind of slumber, not concerned about the injustices and sufferings around the world and seeing the world from my position without closely examining it.”
— Sophia Normark, Spring 2015

“IHP showed me that pursuing a career in human rights is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
— Miranda Padilla, Fall 2017



Here’s an overview of our work through the years:


In recent years, the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) project* has provided a fleet of 100 buses to help students in remote areas of the country get to school; stocked libraries with books targeted to students’ reading levels; and coached government teacher trainers in strategies to help students who struggle to read.


In the Egypt STEM Schools Project, World Learning worked with the Ministry of Education to develop a network of 11 STEM high schools with gender parity in mind. By the end of the program in 2017, 1,586 boys and 1,213 girls were enrolled in STEM schools. “It has been inspiring to witness the dramatic increase of girls in STEM in Egypt,” says Josephine Clark Kennedy, World Learning’s divisional vice president of Global Education and Development. “This shift not only provides greater opportunities for young women, but it also ensures that a new generation is ready to collaborate and innovate to solve their communities’ most pressing problems.”


The Pakistan Reading Project* aimed to improve the reading skills of 1.3 million children across the country by developing teachers’ skills and establishing a culture of reading. Since the program launched in 2013, World Learning has trained nearly 4,859 teachers at 3,160 public schools, encouraging them to shift from lecture-based learning to hands-on activities that immerse students in their education.


Kids Can Code teaches basic coding and English language skills to Syrian refugee children—who are often left out of education opportunities. Last year, World Learning adapted our partner Kano’s coding curriculum to make it accessible for students—most of whom speak little to no English—and trained teachers to provide psychosocial support to students so that they feel safe and able to learn.


Our STEM Center in Algeria has had great success using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework recognizing that all people have individual ways of learning, and equipping teachers with strategies to reach each learner. “Through the merits of the UDL approach, we have students who would not traditionally engage in STEM activities,” says Algeria Country Representative Leah Bitat.


In 2019, World Learning launched a free online course, Teaching Struggling Readers Around the World, that addresses gaps in literacy for multilingual children. In its first iteration, the course attracted more than 7,500 participants from 99 countries—and, in a post-program survey, 99.8 percent of them agreed the course was a good resource to learn about different reading skills that help identify learners’ strengths and weaknesses.

SIT Introduces a New TESOL Concentration in Plurilinguistic Pedagogy

In 2019, SIT added a new concentration in plurilinguistic pedagogy to its Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) master’s degree program. In this approach, language teachers tap into the prior linguistic and cultural knowledge of their students, celebrating their differences and moving classrooms away from language hierarchy and marginalization of communities.

“In this day and age, we are all linguistic and cultural border-crossers,” says Professor Elka Todeva. “The beauty of [plurilinguistic pedagogy] is it’s egalitarian. People’s languages and cultures are recognized, and people can see the beauty and uniqueness of each language.”




SIT Iceland Goes Carbon Neutral

Leave no trace is one of the first lessons of wilderness exploration, and it’s increasingly applied to travel, too. Now, the first track of SIT’s Iceland: Renewable Energy, Technology, and Resource Economics summer 2019 program is set to become one of the first in the U.S. study abroad market to achieve carbon neutrality.

Nash Keyes, an applied mathematics major at Yale who was one of 20 students on the program, says, “I feel lucky to have been a part of this program that is so conscious of its own impact.”

SIT Academic Director Michelle Stewart and lecturer Guðmundur Sigurðarson worked with the green-energy city of Akureyri to plant about 220 trees to offset the environmental impact of students’ air and ground travel. Stewart says carbon capture through reclamation and reforestation is critical to addressing the climate crisis, especially in Iceland, which has lost 92 percent of its forest coverage.

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SIT’s Community Garden & Tree Planting

World Learning Inc. strives for sustainability on our campus in Brattleboro, Vermont, through the SIT Community Garden and tree planting initiatives, both supported by the Lessenco Fund.

In its second year, the SIT Community Garden provided food for the campus cafeteria this summer, with enough left over to donate fresh, organic vegetables to the local foodbank and community food shelf. The garden also served as a teaching space for World Learning summer youth program students and was essential to at least two SIT Graduate Institute capstone projects.

In addition, Brattleboro community members joined SIT staff, faculty, and alumni to reforest approximately three acres on our Vermont campus. The project stemmed from a 2019 capstone project by Sustainable Development alumnus Taliesin Haugh and involved planting nearly 200 saplings and shrubs. We’re thrilled to report that this area now has the potential to sequester 250 tons or more of carbon dioxide over the next 40 years.

The Experiment & Sustainability

Sustainability and the Environment is one of The Experiment’s five program themes. These programs give students the opportunity to explore new perspectives on critical environmental challenges, diverse ecological systems, and natural resource conservation and sustainability. Students might visit nature reserves in Costa Rica, the country with the highest density of biodiversity on Earth; or learn about conservation on the Galápagos Islands, the famous site of Charles Darwin’s research. Local sustainability is also a key component of all Experiment programs and many Experimenters contribute to sustainability in their host communities.

Students on this summer’s Experiment Leadership Institute to India were among more than one million people across Uttar Pradesh state who helped plant 220 million trees in a single day. Experimenters joined their host families and other members of the community in Satoli for the event, which was part of a national campaign to combat climate change and improve the environment.



Identifying the Skills Algerian Youth Need to Succeed at Work

Entering the workforce can be daunting for young people in a world where work is rapidly changing.

World Learning helps youth develop the hard and soft skills they need to succeed through programs like the Youth Employment Project (YEP). Supported by the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a program of the U.S. Department of State, YEP employs World Learning’s WorkLinks Employability Skills Curriculum—which has reached more than 8,000 young people to date—to build these skills among youth at its career centers across the country.

But which skills matter most? In 2019, World Learning Senior Youth Workforce Specialist Dr. Catherine Honeyman examined the specific skills needed for employment in Algeria, where young people face challenges such as regulatory obstacles, nepotism, and gender discrimination. Honeyman discovered that 18 specific skills can make a difference:

Job skills

  • Language (English and French)
  • General IT and profession-specific
  • software skills
  • Career planning
  • Job search strategies
  • CV and online profile creation
  • Job interviewing skills

Soft skills

  • Positive self-concept
  • Self-motivation
  • Goal orientation
  • Social skills
  • Communication skills
  • Perseverance
  • Adaptability
  • Managing emotions
  • Planning/time management
  • Conscientiousness/work ethic
  • Problem-solving
  • Professionalism

World Learning will incorporate this research into our work as we continue to build a future in which all people are equipped to find or create fulfilling livelihoods.

Learning English Opens Doors

English—the de facto language of global business, STEM, and higher education—opens the door to better opportunities.

SIT and World Learning work together to create those opportunities through our Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) programs. With more than 50 years of experience in the field, SIT offers both a master’s degree and the SIT TESOL Certificate. In 2019, the U.S. Department of State recognized SIT as the top institution whose graduates have gone on to serve as cultural ambassadors through the prestigious English Language Fellow Program. World Learning has built on SIT’s reputation, licensing language centers across the globe to deliver the certificate course and TESOL instructor trainings.

Through it all, we take a common approach. Mary Scholl, founder of Centro Espiral Mana, a language learning institute in Costa Rica, has seen that approach from both sides. She earned her master’s degree in TESOL from SIT and is also a licensed trainer of trainers who has delivered the certificate course more than 80 times.

“SIT has a certain ethos that comes out through the students,” Scholl says. “As opposed to getting a master’s degree to teach, SIT students get a master’s degree to create opportunities for others to learn.” She adds that World Learning takes the same approach to training instructors. In fact, Scholl only hires those who have taken World Learning’s Training of Trainers course—which addresses the theory, practice, and logistics of running a TESOL program—because of its rigor and respect for lifelong learning.

This approach works. Many of the instructors Scholl has trained have gone on to obtain master’s degrees and Fulbright scholarships—and even start their own language schools—as a result of the course. When teachers are passionate and prepared, she adds, it positions English language learners across the world for success and stability.

By the Numbers: Centro Espiral Mana has:

  • Trained over 1,000 teachers from more than 20 countries in the SIT TESOL Certificate course
  • Licensed 59 people from 15 countries as trainers for World Learning programs
  • Supervised more than 45 SIT master’s degree students from 8 countries



Creating a More Sustainable World—One Forest at a Time

Amavie Clement wants to help communities employ more sustainable forestry practices. As a student in the inaugural class of SIT’s global master’s degree program in Climate Change and Global Sustainability, Clement learned how healthy forests not only help the environment, but also support people’s livelihoods as a source of food, fuel, and other raw materials. However, current forestry practices often harm the ecosystem. He and his cohort spent their first semester in Iceland and their second in Zanzibar examining issues of climate policy, agriculture, and natural resource management, among others. Clement chose to complete his practicum and capstone in Liberia, where he has ancestral ties, focusing on sustainable charcoal production and community forests.

Clement was able to take the concepts he learned in Iceland and Zanzibar, such as using agricultural waste as an alternative fuel source, and apply them to the work he did in Liberia. Now that he has graduated, Clement wants to work in the forestry sector, helping other communities manage forests sustainably. “I think there’s a bridge where communities … can still live and improve their lives by using forest resources, but do it in a way that’s sustainable, so they’re not the only ones that are benefiting from it, but future generations as well,” he says.

Expanding Networks as a Fulbright Specialist

For Tetine Sentell, the benefits of being a Fulbright Specialist in Albania surpassed her expectations. The Fulbright Specialist Program* offers a unique opportunity for U.S. academics and established professionals to engage in two- to six-week consultancies at host institutions across the globe.

An associate professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Sentell spent three weeks at the Institute of Public Health (IPH) and the University of Medicine, Tirana, helping evaluate a nationwide preventative health screening program. When she returned home, Sentell continued to collaborate with Albanian and U.S. colleagues to write the program evaluation report and publish their findings. The experience brought about opportunities for research that extended far beyond her original project, creating an international network of health professionals.

Sentell says the program also helped her gain the confidence to take on leadership positions, including serving as principal investigator for an evaluation of large-scale interventions for chronic disease in Hawai‘i.

“The Fulbright Specialist Program expanded my focus,” Sentell says. “It got me into new networks, plugged me into other researchers working on public health issues in other countries and at home, and helped me build wonderful and productive connections.”

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Creating Sustainable Change in Lebanon’s Public Schools

Public schools in Lebanon are better prepared than ever to help primary school students learn to read.

Since 2014, World Learning and the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) have worked together to make that possible through the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement (QITABI) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

QITABI has tackled literacy in Lebanon from a variety of approaches, including teacher training, integrating technology into classrooms through offline e-resources, introducing universal screening tools to assess student progress, establishing an early warning system to help struggling readers, and more.

QITABI was designed to be sustainable. Like all of World Learning’s global education programming, QITABI brought together teachers, administrators, government officials, and community members and offered them tools to ensure students receive a high-quality education.

Understanding that students do better in school when their teachers are positioned for success, QITABI trained more than 1,000 Arabic language teachers in an evidence-based approach to literacy—including tailoring lessons for students’ reading levels and leading engaging activities like daily read-aloud sessions—then reinforced that training with an in-school coaching system of workshops and pause-and-reflection sessions with program facilitators and teacher mentors from MEHE.

In addition to teachers, the project also trained 60 master trainers and mentors from the Lebanese government so it could eventually manage the training and coaching on its own. “The ministry coaching system will permit the government to gain the self-reliance to finance and implement the QITABI coaching model across all [public] primary schools in Lebanon,” says QITABI Reading Expert Dr. Eva Kozma.

These trainings have ensured QITABI’s approach is embedded in Lebanon’s education system. World Learning is now collaborating with MEHE and the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) on QITABI 2, which will expand the project to all 910 primary public schools in Lebanon and further develop the foundations for long-lasting change.

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Partnering for STEM Education in Iraq

Kurdistan Save the Children (KSC)—an Iraqi nonprofit dedicated to children’s protection, health, and education—was eager to promote STEM education in the country’s autonomous northern region.

First, though, the nonprofit needed to develop its capacity to carry out such a project. To do so, it turned to World Learning.

Last year, our organizations teamed up with the Catalyst Foundation for Universal Education and technology company Kano to launch Kids Can Code, which teaches basic coding and English language skills to Syrian children in refugee camps.

As the partner on the ground, KSC is responsible for hiring and training the program’s teachers. To get them started, World Learning Senior Education and Research Specialist Kara McBride traveled to Kurdistan to teach key staff members how to train teachers in the curriculum, which includes building a Kano computer and programming it to make art, games, and music. She also showed them strategies teachers can use to incorporate experiential learning—engaging, hands-on activities—into a classroom.

Sara Rashid, a senior officer at KSC, says the training gave the nonprofit confidence in its ability to run this type of program on its own in the future.

“What we learned from World Learning in a month takes three years to learn independently,” she says. “For World Learning to come in and train us in such a sustainable way will resonate for a long time.”

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