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

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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

Lecture Speaker Amy Riolo on The Utah Foodie!

RioloOur guest lecture speaker, Amy Riolo, has been featured on The Utah Foodie podcast!

On the show, Ms. Riolo takes us through her writing on food and culture — and how it builds bridges around the world, enhances traveling, and is even used as a diplomacy device by the US State Department. All this and more, with author, speaker, and food anthropologist, Amy Riolo.

Click here to learn more on how to listen to the podcast.

Amy Riolo: World Affairs Lecture Series

Starts: September 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm.
Ends: September 15, 2015 at 8:30 pm

Culinary Diplomacy: Building Bridges through Global Cuisine

Amy Riolo
Award Winning Author, Chef, Television Personality, Cuisine and Culture Expert

Tuesday, September 15, 2015, 7:00 PM

RioloCommunication is the common foundation for all relationships – and food is the foundation upon which our families, communities, and lives are built. In this engaging presentation, Amy Riolo shares simple steps to better cross cultural communication and relations through food and dining. Her presentation will reveal how to “translate” the culinary cultures of other communities as well as practical tips to know when travelling and entertaining. Best of all, you’ll witness practical examples of how a simple meal can transform public policy and create lasting diplomatic ties while learning ways to “build bridges” at your own dinner table.

As an award – winning author, chef, television personality, cuisine and culture expert, and educator, Amy Riolo is known for sharing history, culture, and nutrition through global cuisine. Amy makes frequent appearances on numerous television and radio programs both in the United States and abroad.

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.

UCCD 2014 Annual Report

UCCD 2014 Annual ReportOur Annual Report for 2014 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 2014.

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 hosted over 400 visitors from over 100 different countries 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, communication, technology, youth empowerment 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 419 current and emerging leaders that we welcomed to Utah in 2014 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 2014 Annual Report

Get ready for WorldQuest on Friday, July 31st!

Reward yourself with WorldQuestWorldQuest has crept up on us as fast as lightening! We are so excited; WorldQuest is truly an experience and not to be missed. Your ticket to WorldQuest comes with:

  • A night of global trivia that will make you feel as if you’ve been on a trip around the World (but at the comfort of your seat)
  • A mouthwatering dinner and a tasty beverage
  • Our two amazing emcees, Chelsea Haviland (read our interview with here by clicking here) and Joe Davis from Park City TV
  • The chance to win unbelievable prizes from local Utah organizations for best dressed team, best team name, as well as 1st, 2nd and 3rd place at WorldQuest!
  • Photos captured by a professional photographer so you can share your memories with friends and family
  • The opportunity to network with other great minds from the community and make new friends

In order to make sure you are fully prepared for tomorrow, take a look at our blog post on ‘Tips to help you become WorldQuest Champion’ to give you the best chance of claiming that coveted title.

Haven’t bought your ticket yet? Don’t worry, there’s still space! Click here to buy your ticket.

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Meet our WorldQuest Emcee: Chelsea Haviland!

Chelsea Haviland will be one of our fabulous emcees at WorldQuest, on Friday, July 31st! Chelsea was kind enough to come in and talk to us at the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy about WorldQuest and all things international trivia.

Hi Chelsea! We are so excited to have you as our emcee again for WorldQuest. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you are connected to UCCD.
Hi, I am the host and producer of Park City Television and one of my absolute favorite things in the world is travel, learning about other countries and cultures. It is in part why I am getting my Public Administration degree, as I want to focus on public development and how private sector practices can be applied to the non-profit sector on a global scale when it comes to international relief and development.
I’ve known Laura (UCCD’s executive director), who is one of the most kind and sincere women I have met in the non-profit sector, for over 7 years and I really value our relationship with her. UCCD has brought a lot of phenomenal people to our show that I have gotten to interview, which I would not have had the chance to do otherwise. There really is no other organization like UCCD in Utah, and I think that people need to know that about them.

What are some highlights that you remember from last year?
I was so thrilled by the excitement that people brought to their game. There was everyone from students to local community members, who want to celebrate what UCCD does in a fun way! It was great to see people dressed up and it was really fun to see people show their colors.

Out of the 6 categories that will be featured at WorldQuest, which do you think you are best at?
I wish I could say I was really good at global economics, but I am not! I would say geography and culture, but we will find out on July 31st!

What is your advice for anyone who thinks they aren’t good at trivia?
Okay, here’s the trick: it’s like what they say for any business owner – make sure the people around you are smarter than you. Just make sure you have the kind of team that can work together, and that come from different knowledge areas. The key is really bringing people from different knowledge bases with different experience together.

If you could sum up WorldQuest in three words, what would they be?
I would say dynamic, crazy (and I mean that in the best possible way!) and motivational. What I went away from WorldQuest with was that as much as you know, you realize there is so much more you don’t know.

Buy your ticket to WorldQuest at:

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What Trivia Personality Are You?

At WorldQuest, you will inevitably come across a whole range of different personalities. Everyone is unique, and as such, their personalities will influence how they will approach WorldQuest. Some may come purely for the fun of it and to learn something new and exciting. Others may be coming because they are determined to win and be named WorldQuest champion.

Tell me, which trivia personality are you? And remember, you could be a combination of 2 personalities! Are you:

The Overachiever: The overachiever can be characterized by their drive and constant desire for achievement. At WorldQuest, you can spot the overachiever easily by their annoyance at any team members who are chatting and not giving input into what the answer to questions may be. Their overly competitive spirit often gets the better of them and sometimes they need a gentle reminder to relax and have fun. The overachiever is a great person to have on your team if you are motivated to win (just be aware that they can get heated)!

The Cheerleader: The cheerleader personality isn’t necessarily renowned for their global wit, but they are constantly excited and great at keeping your morale up. They may not be able to contribute much, but they’ll be keeping the conversation at the table alive and making sure laughs are erupting every few minutes.Untitled design (1)

The Diplomat: The diplomat is the perfect person to have on a team to help mediate any debates over possible answers to questions. They are able to see both points of view and are always challenging you to think outside the box. They are generally considerate and thoughtful, but they can take ages to give their input to an answer!

The Datahead: The poor datahead; this personality genuinely knows it all but their input can often get drowned out by the competitive over achiever and the loud party animal personalities! They are a wealth of knowledge and seem to know everything, no matter how obscure the subject is. The datahead lives to learn and is essential to a winning team!

The Party Animal: You’ll know who the party animal is instantly because they will bouncing from table to table and chatting with everyone and anyone. They’re that friend who is always up for anything; anytime, anyday. Like the cheerleader, they aren’t the most knowledgeable of people, but they are the life of the party and make sure you have a good time no matter what the occasion.  Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy Salt Lake City

Whatever personality type you are, we guarantee you will have fun at WorldQuest. Secure your spot by buying your ticket at:

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Trivia is good for you!

No, really, it truly is. As well as being fun, trivia offers some great benefits for your brain and health in general. Still skeptical? Let’s lay down the facts for you.

Many people exercise to keep their bodies in good health and the brain is no exception; it needs to be exercised as well and trivia is a way to do that! Since your brain is a muscle, trivia questions help challenge your brain which can keep it functioning well and in top shape. Just as with muscular strength, if you don’t use it, you will lose it. Trivia can be a powerful way to ensure that you do not hinder your brain’s ability to process and retain informationCNN has stated that mental stimulation of the brain can actually delay cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Several studies have also shown that being part of a big social network can lessen the cognitive effects of Alzheimer’s disease. At WorldQuest, brain-iconyou are on a team with 8 people (including yourself), which is a pretty large social network in itself! Furthermore, you and your team will be collaborating and working together to come to an agreed upon solution for a tough internationally related question – challenging yourself this way is incredibly valuable for your brain, which in the long run can lead to improved memory and problem solving skills. Although you and your team will be hard at work answering the questions we pose at WorldQuest, you will also be having lots of fun and there will be laughter abound … which is a good thing! This is because laughter has both short-term and long-term benefits. Having fun and laughing can sooth tension, de-stress you and leave you feeling good and relaxed, and it can ease tension. Over the long run, laughter can actually improve your immune system and mood, relieve pain, and make it easier to cope with difficult situations.

In a nutshell, not only will you have an incredible night full of food and fun, you will actually be benefiting your health as well. Sounds good to us!

Hope to see you at WorldQuest (it literally is good for you :-))

You can buy your ticket at

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Tips to help you become WorldQuest Champion!

Last week, we at the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy listed our ‘Top 10 Reasons to go to WorldQuest’ to convince any of you who are on the fence about attending. WorldQuest is coming up fast and we are selling out much more quickly than anticipated. We are thrilled that 80% of tables have already been reserved and urge any of you that have not yet bought your ticket to be quick about it!

Part of the fun at WorldQuest is being able to truly test your knowledge of all things international and to learn new and interesting facts. The world is a huge place and it is next to impossible to Trophy_512x512
know everything there is to know about our fascinating planet we call home. As such, we want to help you make this experience as fun and rewarding as possible, and to help you secure the title of ‘WorldQuest Champion’! And to win bragging rights for the whole year. Your competitors will come from Zions Bank, KUER, the World Trade Center, and 3 major Utah universities, to name just a few. So it won’t be easy to claim the title of WorldQuest Champion; but it can be done and we will show you how.

WorldQuest Trivia Categories

There will be 6 categories at WorldQuest in which to test your global knowledge. These categories are:

  • Business, Science & Technology
  • Geography
  • World Leaders
  • Culture
  • Global Economics
  • Current Events

worldquest categories

Where to go for relevant information

Now that you know the different categories that questions will be themed around, it is time to give you some suggestions as to where to find this type of information. It wouldn’t be fair of us to leave you without some study material, would it?!

We highly recommend visiting National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist to help fill your brain (or refresh it) with knowledge of the type of questions we will be asking on the night. Remember, we will be asking questions that are not only challenging, but interesting, so bear that in mind when skimming through those websites. No one wants to be bored at trivia, and we promise you will not be bored by our questions :)

Good luck for those of who will be attending and for those who are not yet, reserve your spot now by clicking here.

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10 reasons you need to go to WorldQuest

10. You will be supporting the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy; a fantastic non-profit that facilitates visits from emerging leaders around the world to Utah! Chelsea and Joe (1 of 1) resize

9. Because you will love our entertaining Masters of Ceremonies, Chelsea Haviland and Joe Davis.

8. You will get amazing food, and there will be vegetarian options too. Need we say more?

7. Because you will learn tons of interesting facts from around the globe and amaze your friends and family with your worldly knowledge. For instance, did you know that in the Ukraine, the ‘golden loaf’ is a symbol of corruption?

6. At the same time, you can prove whether you really do ‘know it all’.

5. Because a friend forced you to play trivia once and you actually really liked it! Trivia gives you a chance to be social, collaborate and have a good time with friends.

Airplane world4. You have a competitive streak which you can unleash at WorldQuest to be the ultimate WorldQuest champion.

3. Because there are prizes for the best team name and best team costume, and everyone loves prizes.

2. You’ll get to interact and meet people from organizations such as Zions Bank, KUER, students from 3 major Utah universities, and so much more. Click here to see who else will be joining.

1. It’s going to be a lot of fun filled with plenty of photo opportunities and memories to share for months to come :)

Buy your ticket at

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Welcoming Alice Williams to the team

Alice WilliamsAlice Williams is joining the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy as the Marketing and Communications Coordinator. She moved to Salt Lake City after finishing her Master’s in communication studies at San Francisco State University and lived in Hong Kong, Thailand, and England prior to that. Her background and Bachelor’s degree in history and politics inspired her love for travel and all things international. She has a background in public affairs, photography and corporate communication. Alice also runs a health and fitness blog, which introduced her to the world of strategic social media engagement, content creation and the Adobe Creative Suite. She is looking forward to contributing her strategic and creative skills to the success of the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy.

Alice will be filling Emily Olsen’s position in Communications. Emily has taken a new position at the University of Utah and we wish her all the best.

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.