Last May, I walked into the WorldChicago office not knowing what the summer would have in store for me. As an intern, I was wondering if I would be placed with the International Visitor Leadership Program, grant writing, fundraising, the youth programs, or any of the many things that WorldChicago does.
On my second day, I met Maria Krasinski, director of youth programs, and from that moment on I was thrown into the excitement of six international youth exchanges, something that I will always be grateful for. When I was told that I would be working with the youth programs, I thought, “Huh, I’ve been a camp counselor. How different can this be?”
Even though the participants were only going to be in Chicago for one to two weeks, I was shocked at how much preparation was needed! When I learned more about these exchanges (sponsored by the U.S. Department of State) and the different organizations that we would be working with, it was clear that these participants were not ordinary; they were future leaders who had already made an impact in their own country and had been selected from a pool of thousands of applicants. When it came to planning their arrivals, we often mapped out all of the logistics, such as transportation, scheduling, setting up cell phones, and coordinating with homestay hosts. The dedication and love put into these programs showed evidently.
Interning for the youth programs at WorldChicago consisted of a lot of logistical planning, but it paid off when the participants finally arrived and I was able to spend time with them, learn more about their program, attend the workshops, and take on a mentorship role — all while making sure the logistics of the day were already planned out!
The effect on the participants and the staff is life-changing
After last summer, I knew I wanted work with youth as a career. That’s when I applied to be a Program Facilitator for World Learning, one of the national nonprofits that send participants to host cities like Chicago as part of their exchange time in America.
As a Program Facilitator this summer, I was able to see the “other side” of youth programs. All the logistics were already worked out for me — something I was not used to from my experience at WorldChicago! I was placed in a 24-hour leadership role for these beyond-extraordinary participants. From our time at World Learning’s campus in Vermont, to host cities, to Washington D.C., I was able to see the students grow professionally and personally. I remember looking back at just the two weeks at WorldChicago thinking of how tremendously these participants had grown. Being lucky enough to mentor and travel with these participants for a month while working for World Learning, it is evident that they are capable of as future leaders.
Even more, I gained a huge appreciation for WorldChicago and their meticulous preparation for youth exchanges. Their dedication really shows and they excel way beyond what is required. Thanks to my two experiences, I’ve been able to fully grasp the rigour of international youth exchange programs. Each experience taught me a different aspect of youth programs. From logistical planning to becoming a youth mentor, I am beyond grateful for each experience. One thing that the experience as a whole taught me was that youth program exchanges take a lot of effort, but that the effect on the participants and the staff is life-changing.
So, what’s next for me? Being a homestay host of course!
— Becky McLain, 2014 WorldChicago Intern
Becky McLain is currently finishing her last year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in International Studies and European Studies. As an intern with WorldChicago in summer 2014, she worked with youth exchange groups from India, Pakistan, China, Iraq, the UK, and sub-Saharan Africa.