Americans' Lives Changed through Global UGRAD
Each year, dozens of undergraduate students from Eastern Europe and Central Asia travel to the U.S. as Global UGRAD fellows. The changes they experience—as youth who gain professional skills, learn about community service, and share cultural knowledge—are well documented and widely told. But their effect on the hundreds of Americans they touch each year is rarely discussed. IREX asked Americans how their lives were changed as a result of knowing current or past Global UGRAD students. Here are a few of their stories.
Molly Brown – Tallahassee, FL (Florida State University)
As an undergraduate student, Molly Brown studied human rights and genocide issues. But it wasn’t until she met Seda, a Global UGRAD student from Armenia, that she was able to put a human face to the issues she had read about in books. “To be honest, with her, it became real,” said Molly.
Molly and Seda were brought together because of their common interests and traveled together to a leadership conference last year. There, Molly saw political issues come alive: “During the leadership conference, there was a Turkish student, and they got into debates about politics in the region. Seda really listened to what this student was saying. It was very enlightening for me.”
Seda also helped Molly advocate for causes in which she believed. “That’s where I learned a lot from her – I was very involved in advocating for human rights and teaching others about it, and she is very creative. She loves film and media and so she helped me learn about ways to engage other people. She was teaching other people about Armenia and also incorporating what she was studying into that. I think that’s amazing. I love that about her.”
Belle Tuten - Huntingdon, PA (Juniata College)
Sagyndyk is now the fourth international student to stay with Belle Tuten and her family at Juniata College. He wasn’t their first male student or their first Muslim student, but Sagyndyk was their first student from Kyrgyzstan and the first from any former Soviet country. Since he first arrived last fall, he has taught the Tuten family about his home culture and has learned about the U.S., not just from Belle and her husband but also from their two sons (ages eight and 12).
For example, since Sagyndyk arrived, the Tutens now, as a joke, say to each other, “don’t join the army” when they leave the house each day. Sagyndyk taught the family this phrase, which could sound like an odd salutation, during a brief discussion on English idioms. When Belle was going through idioms one day with Sagyndyk, she used the term ‘kick the bucket’. Sagyndyk didn’t understand its meaning and the family explained that it meant a person had died. Sagyndyk responded by saying that in Kyrgyzstan, people there used the term ‘join the army’ to signify the same thing. Belle and her family thought the phrase was humorous and now use it regularly. Belle’s family and Sagyndyk have also shared other new phrases, recipes, cultural traditions and more but none may be as memorable to the Tuten family as this simple phrase.
For Belle, “Kyrgyzstan is real to us in a way that it wasn’t before. I’ve done plenty of geography quizzes but now it means more after having met him. My family can now say to people that our friend Sagyndyk is there.”
Joyce Gleason – Lincoln, NE (Nebraska Wesleyan University)
A retired economics professor, Joyce Gleason taught in a Ukrainian university in the 1990s. Her friendships with two young women from the Ukraine over the past two years, however, taught her new things about the country and have helped her stay connected. Both women, Joyce says, have been an inspiration to her.
“It’s so easy to get discouraged about the political situation, how much corruption there is, and that it seems like the country is backsliding. But people like Victoria give me hope. She clearly is the wave of the future and is so dedicated to change. I know she’s gone back to Ukraine and will continue to fight for democracy.”
Joyce was so gratified by her experience as a “friendship mother” for her first fellow, Victoria, that she took on a new student this year, Sofia. “She volunteers at a Muslim immigrant community center and has tutored Native American children. Through Sofia, I’ve also learned about my own community. I loan her my bike and she uses that to get off campus and get to her volunteer work. She has such a strong commitment to helping people.”
The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Eurasia and Central Asia is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, and is implemented by IREX.