International Education Week (IEW), is the one week out of my exchange year where I got to take a step back and realize the true importance of international education. IEW is an amazing opportunity for exchange students and students across the world to celebrate and share the countless benefits international education and cultural exchange. This annual celebration of cultural sharing is a joint initiative by the US Department of State and the US Department of Education. It acts as a way to promote programs such as YES Abroad which prepares American students for an increasingly diverse and global environment and programs such as the YES (inbound) program which aims to attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn and exchange experiences with people they meet.
In 2017, IEW is celebrated from November 13-17. As a YES Abroad exchange student, I had a very enjoyable week not only sharing my own culture, but also gaining new experiences through connecting with others. My week started slowly with the weekend being extended into Monday as school was canceled due to high levels of smog. However, I have come to realize that there is no such thing as an uneventful day in the life of an exchange student and Monday was no exception. As soon as I started thinking about preparing for the AIMUN conference occurring later in the week, I got a call from my school coordinator telling me that I needed to come into school to prepare a performance for a cultural performance on Wednesday. Once I reached the school, I met with Shivani ma'am, my dance teacher and she started to teach me a dance performance. Even though she made sure to use the easiest dance poses she knew, I still felt extremely nervous as I am definitely not the most graceful dancer (that is putting it lightly). Being IEW, it was an excellent opportunity for me to learn something about the Indian culture even if it may not be the most easy thing to do. For me this was another time to reflect, I realized that intercultural learning is only as challenging as you make it. In other words, it is extremely easy to come together and share ideas and traditions if both sides have an open mind and a willing attitude.
On the second day of IEW, it was my turn to share American culture. From what I have witnessed and experienced from participating in different activities such as Amitasha is that children are more often than not the most receptive to new cultures; they truly embrace whatever you teach them. That being said, with the help of my host family, I organized an evening session to teach the neighborhood kids how to play a couple American games: "duck-duck-goose" and "capture the flag". It is amazing to me to see how everyone, regardless of culture or background, can bond in an instant and forget all differences in such as short period of time. By the end, I started to realize that most of the kids are better than me at these games! To add to that, I now know that I have a group of people who would be up for an intense round of capture the flag at any point of time.
One of the challenges I was having with IEW was the fact that I also had an MUN conference for the last half of it, from the 16-18 of November. I soon realized that it was not really so much a challenge as much as it was an opportunity. During the MUN conference, I spent little time actually participating in the sessions. For more than half of the time, I was hanging out with other exchange students who were equally confused with the proceedings of an MUN session. There were delegates from 10 different countries at the MUN, some who I had met before at the arrival orientation and some completely new to me. Countries included India, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovakia, Japan, Canada, Thailand and a couple others. It was amazing to be able to speak with people from so many different backgrounds. We all have one thing in common which is being an exchange student, yet we share so much more than that. We all share a passion for learning about the world around us which is what made this IEW have such a tremendous impact on me.
On Friday, the last official day of IEW, the MUN conference sessions were proceeded by a cultural gala. If you're wondering what happened to the dance performance I mentioned earlier, this is the time it came into play. During the gala, I enjoyed seeing the performances of every delegation from abroad. It was so nice to see so many cultures come together in one location. I watched regional performances such as a South Indian Dance and international performances in the form of various instrumental compositions, cultural dances and traditional songs in many languages. I contributed by sharing not only the American style of dance - through non other than the Cha Cha Slide, but also sharing what I have learned in the past 5 months abroad through the Indian dance I mentioned earlier. Though I may not have given a flawless performance, I was proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and it felt amazing to be congratulated by so many people.
The combination of this performance and all the other events I took part in proved to me that International Education is not confined to a classroom or even a country, it is a worldwide celebration that occurs on every level and platform whether it be a planned performance or a simple talk with those of a different background. Everyone has something to share. After participating in IEW, I am definitely more conscious about the opportunities I am given as an exchange student and have been reminded what my exchange year is really all about: promoting intercultural learning and peace through making connections with people I may otherwise have never met.
International Education week passed by more quickly than I ever imagined possible, but through it I have come to realize that international education does not need its own time to be celebrated. It is something that happens through the everyday interactions of life and quite often occurs without thinking. As the midway mark of my exchange approaches, I cannot think of a better way to have prepared myself to make the most of the rest of my time here. IEW may have just ended, but there is no limit to where it will take me.
Hi! My name is Anna McKane. I am 16 years old and have had a pretty ordinary life up to this point. I believe this experience will change me for the better and I will try everything I can while I am abroad.