Iraqi and Utah students work together to close culture gaps


Deseret News

Iraqi and Utah students work together to close culture gaps

By Julian Reyes , Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, July 10 2012 8:33 p.m. MDT

Rana, a student from northern Iraq, helps YouthWorks students paint a mural under a bridge on 300 North in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A thoroughfare filled with murals had previously attempted to connect the Jackson and Gadualupe neighborhoods in Salt Lake City. It is now being used to build a bridge of peace and understanding between two countries.

The program Bridge over Barriers invited Iraqi high school students and their host families Tuesday to participate in painting a mural design under the bridge at 300 N. 700 West, in hopes of combating stereotypes and closing the gap between cultures.

“As you know, the American society is the open minded people (and) there’s a lot of needs in my society, yet I want to learn more from the American society and copy this experience to my community,” said 16-year old Abdullah, who along with the rest of the students asked that their last names not be used.

Rana, a student from northern Iraq, helps YouthWorks students paint a mural under a bridge on 300 North in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

The Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy and the Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program  chose 64 English-speaking Iraqi students to participate in a four-week youth leadership exchange program that started in Washington D.C. and later placed them in seven cities throughout the country.

Salt Lake City participated for the first time by hosting 10 students and placing them with families of Salt Lake high school students, who gathered to work together and get to know each other while painting the mural Tuesday.

Abdullah’s family had previously visited the United States and had described the country to him. But nothing his parents said could have prepared the teenager.

“I was telling myself, ‘This is America, am I dreaming?’” he said. “Everything is cool (and) the streets are clear, clean, everything is beautiful. Oh! I will stay here, just kidding.”

Sarah Mian of South Ogden and Carlos Andrade of Kearns paint a mural under a bridge on 300 North in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Zahraa, 15, wants to improve her leadership skills while experiencing different cultures.

“I want to improve everything in Iraq,” said the teenage girl. “I want to make our voices be heard and I want to have freedom in Iraq, just like here in America.”

The Iraqi students did not look past liberties that are usually taken for granted.

“People are free to do anything, free to behave the way they like, free to talk the way they like,” she said. “In Iraq, you don’t have the right to talk about yourself (and) about how you feel.”

The Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program, which is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of State through the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, has had 200 alumni in the past several years. The program has helped eliminate many stereotypes among the students.

YouthWorks students and Iraqi students work together to paint a mural under a bridge on 300 North in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

“I am not even feeling homesick because I really feel like they’re my family,” Zahraa said of his host family. “My host sister treated me like her own real sister.”

Sarah Mian, 18, and her Pakistani family are hosting Zahraa and 18-year old Rana. “Having them here is just the most humbling experience in my life,” Mian said.

Mian said she, too, has been able to break stereotypes previously instilled in her.

“They are more intelligent, advanced then even the Western world. Here, (they) have so much knowledge that no one else has, so much truth that we are all yearning to search for,” Mian said. “Them exposing that to us is the most gracious gift.”

Mian, who is hoping to go to medical school in Pakistan, still sees tension between the Eastern and Western cultures in Salt Lake City and believes that the more exposure people get in an artistic manner, the better it will be for all cultures.

YouthWorks students and Iraqi students work together to paint a mural under a bridge on 300 North in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

“The more we talk face to face, and we don’t rely on the media and the news and the things that people are telling us and not really explaining to us, the more we will understand who these people are and why there is nothing wrong with them,” she said. “They are just like you and me and maybe they have more to give us. We have something to give them, too.”

Yusur, a 15-year-old who choose to cover herself with a veil and wear sunglasses to shade her face, said she believes that a bridge can be created between Iraq and the United States, but not at the expense of losing her culture and religious beliefs.

“My opinion before I got here was that life here was very easy and easier then Iraq,” Yusur said. “I was thinking that Iraq is a hard country to live in and that America was easy, but I discovered that no, America is very hard to live (in).”

Rana, a student from northern Iraq, helps YouthWorks students paint a mural under a bridge on 300 North in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Life is harder, she believes, because of the variety of different cultures.

Because her family is not here and because she is a girl, she feels an obligation to keep her traditions and customs.

Elise Grizzel, 15, expected the Iraqi students to be much more conservative and was surprised at how much English they speak. She and her host sister Yusur are very different.

“She (Yusur) is almost like a newborn baby to this culture,” Elise said. “It’s amazing watching her adjust and try to expand herself. I think she is having a hard time because she is trying to stay with her past and her culture. But, the more I get to know her, the more I understand why.”

Fifteen-year old Shadan said she has realized that there are more similarities between Iraqis and Americans than there are differences.

YouthWorks students and Iraqi students work together to paint a mural under a bridge on 300 North in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

“Before I came here (to the United States) I didn’t know the world had so many different cultures,” she said. “It is nice to know that even though I am different and from a different country, I am still human. I have the same rights (as) everyone in the world.”

Once Shadan returns home, she said the first thing she wants to tell her parent is that Iraq needs change.

“We need change in our lives,” she said. “We need more freedom, definitely. We need to start working on things, you know?”

E-mail: Twitter: @_JulianReyes_

Copyright 2012, Deseret News Publishing Company

UCCD Welcomes Visitors from Ukraine and Uzbekistan

IMG_6329 edit

UCCD Proudly welcomes visitors from Uzbekistan and Ukraine to Salt Lake City, Utah!

Incoming International Visitors to Utah
International Visitors are participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. All International Visitors are accompanied by U.S. Department of State Interpreters and/or English Language Officers.

UCCD Welcomes Visitors from Uzbekistan and Ukraine 

July 26: Program Director Kaitlin Spas welcomed  visitors from   Uzbekistan to Salt Lake City. The visitors studied “Conservation in Libraries,” attending meetings at the Utah State Library, LDS Family History Museum and the Brigham Young University Center for Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, among other activities.   

July 27: Six visitors from Ukraine, pictured here with Speaker of the  Utah House of Representatives, Rebecca Lockhart, examined “LGBT Advocacy in the US.” The group’s activities included a meeting with Equality Utah, Utah Log Cabin Republicans and attending a workshop on “Cultivation Volunteers” with the University of Utah Nonprofit Academy

Opening for Summer Event Coordinator Internship

scott-internHelp UCCD launch Utah’s first WorldQuest! We are now accepting applications for an Event Coordinator Intern during the Summer Semester.  This fun and unique fundraiser will become the signature fundraising event for the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy.

We are seeking an enthusiastic, outgoing individual with excellent verbal and written communication skills, the ability to work independently, and a passion for contributing to global understanding.  Candidates must be detail oriented and possess the ability to manage a large scale project with a variety of moving parts.  Creativity essential.  The ideal candidate will have experience planning events.  This is a paid internship and college credit may be available through your university.  The successful candidate will have his/her own transportation, and business-related mileage will be reimbursed.  This position offers flexible hours and a convenient location at Westminster College.

Click here for the full internship description and guidelines on how to apply.

UCCD Guest Lecturer Amy Wilentz Wins a National Book Critics Circle Award

Amy WilentzBy Roz Hunter, The Nation Institute

On March 13, Amy Wilentz, a former Nation intern, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography for her book, Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti.

Wilentz, a longtime contributing editor of The Nation, has reported from Haiti since 1986. Her book traces the country’s history from its slave plantations through its revolution, guerrilla movements, and long and troubled relationship with the US. In a press release, the NBCC called the book “a gritty, surprising memoir based on years of reporting from Haiti.”

You can view her PBS interview here.

Amy Wilentz came to Salt Lake City to speak at the February 18, 2014 lecture as part of our 2013-2014 Ambassador John Price and Marcia Price World Affairs Lecture Series. To learn more about Wilentz’s book and to watch her presentation on post-earthquake Haiti, please click here.

UCCD 2013 Annual Report

Annual ReportOur Annual Report for 2013 is now here for you to read and share! Visit this link to learn about the International Visitor Leadership Program, a map of where our International Visitors came from and what they studied last year, and many other highlights from 2013.

As Utah’s leader in professional and cultural exchanges, this year UCCD connected Utah’s “citizen diplomats” with current and emerging leaders as never before. Our engagement was local; our impact global. We matched over 400 emerging world leaders with over 500 Utah volunteers and helped create life-changing experiences and long-lasting connections. Our programs advanced the knowledge of experts in health, education, environment, economic development, civil society, human rights, volunteerism, technology and more.

Through the International Visitor Leadership Program, UCCD works with the next generation to advance leadership and enhance the capacity of individuals and organizations to address local and global challenges. The 411 current and emerging leaders that we welcomed to Utah in 2013 have touched our hearts, made us smile, and opened our minds to the possibilities before us. They’ve left their stamp upon our community and in our hearts, and will never be forgotten. We believe in them, their talents and their future.

Read more here: UCCD 2013 Annual Report

Lecture Recordings Now Online!

To cater to our diverse audience, we are now posting each 2013-2014 Ambassador John Price and Marcia Price World Affairs Lecture online! The recordings are now available on our UCCD Vimeo page.

To view each past lecture, please CLICK HERE.

file 4 copy






A ‘Whole New World, A New Fantastic Point of View’: How Millennnials See the Planet

By John Zogby, Contributor

Let’s step away from shutdowns and debt ceilings; from Syria and Iran; from terrorists and L’il Kim and others who would destroy our sense of well being. Join me in peeking into our future – a much brighter place.JohnZogby300dpi

I have been writing about Millennials – i.e. Americans I call “First Globals” born between 1979 and 1994 – for over a decade. In fact, they are the subject of my new book, co-authored with Joan Snyder Kuhl, entitled First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing the Potential of Our Millennial Generation. But in brand new polling conducted October 6-9 by Zogby Analytics of 1000 younger “First Globals” aged 18-26, we find a whole new worldview emerging that portends less reliance on military power, war, and lone superpower status for the United States in the future.

Please click here to view the full release.


Working For Human Rights in Haiti

BlueDesksIn a small school in Port-au-Prince, men and women in business attire are crowded into rows of bright blue desks listening intently to the speaker at the front of the classroom.  Ansadou Cherenfant is a professor at Grand College Hugo Paul de Frères, and a leader in Haiti’s human rights community.  The human rights training at this local school is one of several he has conducted since his experience with the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in May of 2013.

According to the U.S. Department of State “the most serious impediments to human rights [in Haiti] involve weak democratic governance; the near absence of the rule of law; and chronic, severe corruption in all branches of government.”  Basic human rights problems include arbitrary and unlawful killings by government officials, poor conditions and prolonged pretrial detention in prisons, and violence against women.  Cherenfant was invited to come to the U.S. on an IVLP project titled Citizen Participation in a Democratic Society as a result of his work providing insight into these and other human rights challenges.  Cherenfant identifies the most pressing human rights issues in Haiti to be based on socio-economic inequality.

“We have to protect the housing rights of the people and protect [their] environment.  The Government must encourage entrepreneurship to facilitate investment for reducing poverty in Haiti,” said Cherenfant.

TeachingDuring his visit to the U.S., Cherenfant learned new strategies for engaging citizens in addressing human rights issues.  His program included a trip to Salt Lake City where the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy arranged meetings with community leaders in journalism, state government, the nonprofit sector and education.  These meetings provided a dialogue around democratic principles and demonstrated a broad spectrum of citizen involvement in government.

“As a leader, [IVLP] was a beautiful experience of my life after my internship at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights…Now, I’m using it in my career to change the Haitian Human Rights situation. I work hard with my group in the Haitian Community. My dream is to become one of the most active Educator[s] in the world. I saw a lot and I learned a lot in the U.S.  This knowledge can help me to participate in the development of my country,” said Cherenfant.

Since returning from his IVLP experience, Cherenfant has worked with a group of human rights educators called GRAPRODH (Human Rights Education Promotion Group) to conduct several trainings and is looking forward to more in the future.

“We believe in education in Human Rights. We can address these issues to help the Haitian to know his Rights and duties. We want to do a big campaign of Civic Education in Haiti,” said Cherenfant.

Through these and other community-oriented activities, Cherenfant hopes to empower the citizens of Haiti to take an active role in promoting and protecting human rights.

ansadou“As a Human Rights activist and Educator, my trainings help Citizens to respect the Democratic Principles and love his Country.  And take knowledge of the existence of these issues for building a better Haiti.”

by Kaitlin Spas, UCCD Program Director

Kiyan Irani Joins UCCD As Fall Intern

Kiyan-IraniUCCD has a new intern! Kiyan Irani is currently a junior at the University of Utah majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Psychology. Last year, he participated in an international study program called Semester At Sea, which took him to 13 countries in places such as Asia, Africa and Europe. The staff is very excited to have Kiyan for the fall semester! To read his full bio, click here.


Ambassador John Campbell: World Affairs Lecture Series


JohnCampbellWebAmbassador John Campbell
Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Tuesday, November 12, 2013, 7:00 PM

Many African countries are profoundly divided, with longstanding grievances, weak institutions, and nascent, if any national identity. When losing an election means losing access to patronage, competitors are willing to risk anything to mobilize divisions within society to protect their access to state wealth and power. How should Western democracies support free and fair elections and the rule of law in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya?

Ambassador Campbell served as a U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer from 1975 to 2007. He served as Ambassador to Nigeria and Dean of the Language School at the Foreign Service Institute. Notable assignments included Director of the office of UN Political Affairs, and Political Counselor in Nigeria and South Africa. He is the author of Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink and writes the blog Africa in Transition.

All lectures are free and open to the public, and are held in the
Vieve Gore Concert Hall, Westminster College, 1840 S. 1300 E., Salt Lake City.

Be The Change: Iraqi Times, Western Minds

Explore the ideas of our American and Iraqi Young Leader filmmakers…
Click HERE to view Be The Change.



New Friends Sharing Old Traditions

The Iraqi Young Leaders and Li’l Feathers, a Native American dance group, shared some cultural dance traditions. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on this gathering. READ STORY

Lil Feathers Trio

Copyright © 2014 The Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy. The Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.