In February 2014, ISSS Program Coordinators Annette Whatley and Emily Pulley traveled to Erbil, Iraq to participate and contribute to the 2014 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) Reunion Workshop- “Iraqis Making Positive Achievements in their Communties” (IMPACT).
The goals of the IYLEP Reunion were to; (1) Reconnect Iraqi undergraduate students from the summer 2013 cohort with the IYLEP network; (2) Provide forums for discussion to exchange stories, challenges and success of community engagement since returning home, and; (3) Build on the skills students developed during their time in the U.S. that will motivate them to become more effective change-makers in their communities.
Reunion Sessions took place February 12-15 at the Canyon Hotel Erbil. Whatley and Pulley had the opportunity to hear from students in a variety of settings, via small group reflection time, student panels, action-planning workshops and goal setting activities. Students provided feedback on the ways in which they felt empowered, inspired and challenged as community leaders after participating in the summer institute on the UT campus. Whatley and Pulley learned that many of the students have initiated community projects since returning to Iraq, including book drives, peer-outreach on education opportunities as well as the establishment of an Iraqi branch of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association.
Whatley and Pulley are extremely proud of the work their students have accomplished and will accomplish in the future! The Reunion Workshop provided a unique opportunity for those involved to see a program truly come full circle, and identify ways in which classroom learning can be implemented in the current cultural and community contexts for students across the country of Iraq.
Additional U.S. institutions who attended the workshop included Ball State University, University of Massachusetts and Virginia Commonwealth University. The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) for undergraduate students is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State and provides 6 weeks of fully-funded leadership training and classroom instruction to these talented and dedicated students from Iraq. Meridian International Center, based in Washington D.C., who is the implementing partner in this program organized the 2014 reunion.
The UT International Office is very excited to begin preparing for a new cohort of IYLEP participants in summer 2014. Whatley and Pulley are confident that the feedback and reflection provided from the Reunion Workshop will greatly impact and improve future programming.