Global Professional Fellows share their exchange experiences

Ann Arbor: The City that Breathes Peace, by Fatima Qusay, IYLEP Participant from Al-Diwaniyah, Iraq

When the World Learning staff told us about our host city assignments, I learned that mine was Ann Arbor, Michigan. I asked about what it was like. They told me it was not a very big city like I had wanted, but that I wouldn’t be disappointed. After spending two weeks in it, I discovered that Ann Arbor is  better than what I wanted, because everything in this city is beautiful — especially the nature, the greenness reminded me of the green in Vermont, and the people, who are very educated not just in terms of what they have studied, but they are also educated by their life experiences, which is the biggest school. They understand that all the humans are equal, and they don’t care about the differences between them.  I was seeing Muslims, Christians, Jews, gay, straight, black and white and they were smiling toward each other, and treating each other kindly and respectfully.  “My host family ” I still believe that I’m the luckiest one to have such a wonderful and kind family. (Linda) my host mom inspired me a lot because she’s a very strong woman. The organizations that we had visited were very useful and made me understand  how I can use my voice be able to CHANGE something in this World, a very big thanks for all the people that helped us to make these two weeks the best ever.
By Fatima QK ( Latoya)

The People Make the Place, by Fadhil Ahmed, IYLEP Participant from Babylon, Iraq

I’m Fadhil Ahmed, 15 years old from Babylon, Iraq!

Ann Arbor is basically a big world in a small city — and this is the thing I like most about it! It’s a small town, but contains a lot of different people, a lot of collective knowledge and many different types of organizations that support and promote young people! It’s very, very diverse! It’s a city that has a real sense of identity, and is proud of being open and inclusive, even though it’s small.

The experience in Ann Arbor that I enjoyed most is when we cooked dinner at the Neutral Zone for our host families to show our appreciation for them for hosting us in their homes! I enjoyed that experience because I’ve learned a lot from it about how to work with my friends as a team. It was a great opportunity to show our appreciation for our host families!

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has helped me to reach this point now and give a special thanks to the organizations which have welcomed us! And to our Ann Arbor IYLEP staff!  You were always a great support for us!! DSC_2111

Learning to be a Leader through Rapping and Capture the Flag, by Ahmed Mohammed, IYLEP Participant from Mosul, Iraq and Dohuk, Kurdistan

My name is Ahmed Mohammed and I am 17 years old from Mosul originally, but for the past two years, I have been living in Dohuk, Kurdistan. Living here in Ann Arbor, Michigan for two weeks with two different families was a memorable experience and was fully enjoyable for me. I know more about American family life now thanks to the two families, and both were very lovely.

I’ve enjoyed all of the workshops and activities that I participated in.  They were amazing and I learned a lot about myself in just two weeks. I learned many things that will help me to start my project to reform the university admission process when I get back home, and to help me start other projects too.

I also had fun while I was learning in many organizations such as the University of Michigan League, the Neutral Zone, the WISE Robitics Camp, Greenfield Village and the Corner Health Clinic, and all of the other places.

The people of Ann Arbor are friendly and smiling all the time.  They are peaceful and simple. I’d like to thank the staff in Ann Arbor, all of the host families and World Learning for giving me the chance to participate in this program.


From Robotics to Baseball, By Zain AlAbideen Ali, IYLEP Participant from Karbalaa, Iraq

I’m Zain Alabideen Ali from Karbalaa,Iraq

Ann Arbor is a beautiful  city and the most beautiful thing about it is that it cares for art and sports. My favorite activity in Ann Arbor was the robotics camp by the University of Michigan Women in Science and Engineering program. I liked it a lot. I also liked the YMCA volunteering activity and Neutral Zone workshops. While I was here, I watched a lot of baseball games because my host brother played in a summer league. Actually I dislike baseball, but I enjoyed the Tiger’s game that we went to in Detroit. It was a totally great experience.
Thanks a lot for everyone who helped, hosted and benefited us. I really appreciate your efforts. I liked my time in Michigan.  I will miss Michigan.

Personal Growth in Ann Arbor, by Hanin Mohammed Saeed, IYLEP Mentor from Baghdad, Iraq

Hey, my name is Hanin, and I am a 22 year old exchange student from Baghdad, Iraq. I’ve had the privilege of being one of the adult mentors for IYLEP 2016, which brought me for two weeks to a beautiful place called Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’ve heard so much about how peaceful and mesmerizing this place is, but now that I have lived here for the past two weeks, it’s way more than words can ever explain.

I wanted to pick one day or event that was my favorite to talk about, but that is just impossible. I’ve gained so much and I will always cherish every second I’ve spent here.

I remember my very first day in Ann Arbor. I was asked what I am hoping to achieve during my time here, and my answer was that I want to be able to make a change upon my return – I want to learn and grow more from my time here. Now that my time here has unfortunately come to an end, I can honestly say that not a single day has passed without me learning something new, or realizing something — even about myself sometimes – that I wasn’t aware of.

For that, I want to thank everyone who has devoted his/her time and energy to help us, teach us, and make us feel so welcome in Michigan. Barbara, I remember when we were leaving Vermont, Riz said, “Barbara is going to pick you guys up at the airport”. When we asked who Barbara is, he replied with, “She is an amazing woman”, and that is the least anyone can ever say. Last but not least, Surry and Jack, thank you for being my second family, and not just my “host family”. I will miss you guys the most.


Amazing experiences in Ann Arbor, by Mary Salam, IYLEP Participant from Baghdad, Iraq

Mary Salam – Baghdad, Iraq

I’m writing this blog post in appreciation of IYLEP itself and every single person who contributed to making this experience happen. The last couple of weeks have been some of the most amazing weeks of my life. I’m so grateful that I got to stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan as my host city because this city has so many great things to explore and learn from. We visited so many great organizations, and met so many great change-makers, volunteers and teenagers who are aware and accepting – so many great souls.

IMG_0558I enjoyed every single workshop, activity and new experience that we had here, but I especially liked the activities and discussions at the Neutral Zone, a teen-run center. I also enjoyed staying with such an amazing and caring host family, who I would like to thank for making this already great experience even better. I’ve enjoyed getting to know new people and learning so much from each and every one of them. All of these people were complete strangers to me two weeks ago, yet I feel like I have known them for quite a long time due to their kindness and amazing personalities.

IYLEP in AA, by Kavy Osman, IYLEP Participant from Kurdistan

Hello! My name is Kavy, I am 17, and I am from Suleymaniyah, Iraq.

The reason why I am writing this blog is because I was lucky enough to get selected as one of the Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange Program (IYLEP) participants of 2016, and we have a two-week stay at host families here in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

My experience here, both in Ann Arbor and in my host family, has been one of the most amazing challenges I have ever taken on. At first, I had worries about a lot of things, especially the host family because I didn’t know anything about them at all until one day before I arrived here, so I was being kind of cautious and awkward at first. But then as the first two days passed by, we were starting to have really great conversations about our cultures, politics, religious ideas, and traditions, and I realized that they were open-minded towards any ideas and in fact they already had some information about our lifestyle and even our food, which was surprising to me.

I have been to many places here in Ann Arbor already and have made so many great friends, I love the positive energy here that you can breath in while walking on the streets and seeing all these people running and doing exercise, I really like the greenness of the environment here and the continuous efforts by everyone to keep it up that way. It is very beautiful to see all these people, each from a different nationality, color, religion, background, and education level, yet it is as peaceful as it has ever been.

We have visited some awesome youth organizations (like the Neutral Zone, the YMCA, YVC, The Corner Health Clinic), which were absolutely inspiring and useful for me, and would absolutely help me in improving my community when I get back.

My host mother is a very busy woman, but despite that, she tries her best every single day to keep up a positive attitude, and to take care of me as much as possible and I really do appreciate that, I’m really looking forward to the rest of my time here, and I hope to stay in touch with all of the people I’ve met here.IMG_6497.

Reflections on My First Days in the Sultanate of Oman, by Carole Lapidos, American Fellow, January 2015

After arriving in Oman three days ago I have experienced so many feelings and thoughts about the importance of inter-cultural exchange. The experience of boarding a plane and landing almost 24 hours later half way around the world is hard to grasp. The sights, sounds and smells are all so new. I find myself trying to place myself in a familiar context but there is none. I am surprised at first that I feel this way but now I have a growing appreciation for the differences. Today we visited Sultan Qaboos University and I had the opportunity to talk with a young woman about Omani traditions. She shared with me that she is in an arranged marriage. Again, I became aware of my judgements regarding arranged marriages. Experiencing another culture so very different from my own has opened avenues into myself that I hadn’t explored before. She talked about being very happy in her marriage and I walked away from our conversation feeling so appreciative for the expansion of ideas and feelings. This trip so far has been amazing.

carole in squ

Business Simulations help Entrepreneurs to Develop Business Strategy, by Amira Mamdouh Amer, Egyptian Professional Fellow, Fall 2014

During the last few days in my placement, I participated in, and helped to manage a three-day “Business Simulation” workshop for American businessmen and women who were becoming entrepreneurs. I learned how to manage a business entity and how to take decisions regarding internal and external variables in a particular business sector.

I learned from the workshop many values, such as: honesty, transparency, hard-work, and cooperation. I also learned that ‘it is never too late to start over’. In Egypt, most entrepreneurs are young — in their teens and twenties, whereas here, most people participating in this program are in their forties.  I love the idea of having the ability to make a career change later in life!


My Placement Journey at Inforum Michigan, by Maysa ElShekh, Egyptian Professional Fellow, Fall 2014

My placement is with Inforum, a non-profit organization located in Detroit, Michigan. It is the only professional organization in Michigan – and one of a few in the country – that combines strategic connections, proven professional development programs, a respected forum for new ideas, and original research to accelerate careers for women and boost talent initiatives for companies.

Before I talk about my experience with Inforum, I’d like to start my article with a hidden story that led me to “Inforum.”I was supposed to be placed in another organization, the Center for Economic Empowerment and Development (CEED), but there was a last minute change due to a CEED conference out of State, so my destiny brought me to to Inforum. I do believe in signs. I believe that everything that happens to me is for a reason – either I recognized it or discovered it later. I believe every person I meet in my life is meant for a lesson I need to learn.

Meeting Rachele Downs and being in Inforum are milestones in my life meant to teach me many lessons, in fact. Everything surrounding this organization, from the unique view of Canada (the only point where Canada is located south of the U.S. which normally is north of U.S.) to the friendly staff I have met who made me feel as I am a part of a family, and not just one of the staff.

In my first day, Rachel gave me a deep orientation about Inforum’s vision and mission in addition to its activities. She was extremely sincere in terms of sharing with me all the information that could help me understand Inforum and Detroit, in general. This information was very supportive to me during my attendance in several events and workshops.

Inforum as a NPO focuses not only on supporting and empowering women in the workforce, but also on changing the stereotypes regarding the role that women play in the community. In addition to that, Inforum believes in cultural diversity, and the power it brings to the work environment. That’s why Inforum advocates for diversity on corporate boards. Can you imagine when a decision came out of a board that has such diversity? There is research stating that “the more diversity an organization has, the more success it will reach.”

The key element here is preparing women to be well-qualified as board members. They recommend women to be advisers and to start as volunteers in any sort of board capacity just to gain the experience and to build a strong network that will help them later when being a member on a specific board. This taught me that we have to prepare ourselves at an early stage so when opportunity knocks, we will be ready to seize it because it will not wait for us.

It was such a shock for me to discover that women in the U.S. are also struggling to secure key leadership positions due to the misconceptions of society about women, in addition to the perspectives that women themselves have about their ability to lead organizations. I came to the conclusion that women are the same all around the world in terms of their struggle to be in the positions they deserve and in their suffering to maintain a good life for their family; it’s just to different degrees.

Inforum will launch a new program that focuses on bringing successful women to share their experiences as role models. According to the events I have attended at Ann Arbor Spark, listening to inspiring stories is a key factor in terms of motivating others to take further steps to achieve their goals.

Rachele is a perfect role model for women because she has passion for helping people, especially other women. The spark in her eyes tells you exactly who she is. She is a very compassionate person, and when watching the way she deals with people, you will find a smart, patient, and motivated woman. My friendship with her (within four days we were fast friends) taught me that building a good relationship with someone else doesn’t require time, money, or a specific language. All it requires is being human, respecting the other person and accepting him/her as they are even if he/she is totally different from you. I can’t imagine how many memories we’ve already shared together, and how many times we cried empathetically when one of us was telling a personal story. All of those emotions happened in just the first four days.

As for me, the short time I spent in the office-lots of workshops, meetings, dinners I attended were outside of the office- showed me how teamwork should be. It was obvious when one of the staff wrote a speech for the CEO and the CEO, in turn, delivered the speech with great enthusiasm. Teamwork is all about sequential order that makes it difficult to determine individual performance since they are integrated. I closely saw how meetings should be managed. Their meetings showed me the meaning of focusing, accuracy, and sharing.

Inforum provided many opportunities through the workshops and valuable events I attended. Those events ranged from a presentation about success factors for women as leaders and a workshop regarding women on boards, to attending as an observer a session at the University of Michigan Law School. Rachele served as one of the panelists who assessed students who were “pitching” their entrepreneurial ideas. Rachele rated them on negotiation skills and their ability to get funding for their new businesses based on the way they presented their ideas, their business model and strategic plan. It was a fascinating experience for me to see young entrepreneurs fighting for their ideas. I got the opportunity to observe two young ladies and a gentleman. I noticed that the girls were well-organized and highly stubborn even if they bid on the wrong horse!

Attending a BizGrid event at Wayne State University was another experience where many entrepreneurs gathered under one roof for great networking. This entrepreneurial network –which is a key element in starting your own business- will expose new business women and men to different industries and other start-ups. This kind of event plays a critical role in helping start-up entrepreneurs with different workshops such as “How to Build your Own Team,”and “How to Extend your Network Effectively.” It was my first time learning about the term B2B (“Business to Business”) which helps in building a strong economy inside the same city. For example, if I used to buy paper from Ann Arbor now I’ll know who works in the same industry in Detroit. These kinds of practices will definitely strengthen Detroit’s economy.

Detroit residents are very special in terms of their belief in themselves and their pride in Detroit as an industrial city. They aroused my curiosity to know more about this city. The city of Detroit, the largest city in the state of Michigan, developed from a small fur trading post of New France to a world-class industrial powerhouse and the fourth largest American city by the mid 20th century. I was very interested in learning about Henry Ford’s story in terms of creating the middle class here so people could afford to buy the cars he produced. Lots of lessons can be learned ranging from increasing employees’ loyalty to balancing Detroit economically.

The last event I attended was for an organization called COTS “Coalition On Temporary Shelter” that helps homeless people – especially families – by providing them shelter and a nursery for their kids so mothers can go to work. In this special event, I saw how all the organizations that attended appreciate and acknowledge each other’s efforts. I was touched when a CEO said she is happy to cooperate with COTS and to support its success –“because its success is ours, too”.

I learned that if something is bothering me, it is a must to take action instead of complaining. We should always think about the value we’ll bring to those we are working with. Help, advise, and coaching those who seek your coaching and advice. Open your door to give even one hour and build your network while also managing your time and never making a commitment you would not be able to meet.You’ll never know what the future holds and who will refer you or endorse you to put you on the right track that will take you further to your passion and dream as happened with me.

There are many things I need to bring back to Egypt. I wouldn’t say that my country has no problems. No, but I am full of hope that by keeping educated people in the country, and encouraging them to adopt new methodologies and approaches, we can push Egypt further to a fabulous future for the next generation. However, we should take into consideration that to have these changes happen on the ground it will require extensive time, energy and dedicated effort. It will require helping people change their mindset regarding business values and more modern methods that should be applied at all levels.

Thanks Inforum – you’ve inspired me to build Inforum Egypt. I am looking forward to your cooperation!