WorldChicago Youth Diplomats Program Participants Olivia K. and Emma Z.

WorldChicago Youth Diplomats is an 8-month experiential learning program to equip and empower Chicago teens to be active global citizens. Youth Diplomats brings 40 Chicagoland students together once per month to explore topics in global affairs and diplomacy, and builds essential skills in leadership and cross-cultural communication. This story features two of our Youth Diplomats: Olivia and Emma.

Olivia K:

Hello! My name is Olivia and I’ve been in Youth Diplomats for the past two years. This program has brought me so many experiences I didn’t know I’d get to encounter. As a group of students, we get to meet new people from all over the world and hear about the problems citizens have to face in different countries, as well as how people had to come to the United States in search for a better life. With Youth Diplomats, I got to make new friends from countries I could only imagine visiting. These new friends have become so close and mean so much to me. Hopefully one day we can meet again.

Youth Diplomats has shown me that there is a never ending list of ways to help communities. My first year at the program, we went to the Pilsen neighborhood and met with people from the Pilsen Alliance who help in immigrant rights and the Pilsen community. I learned about the inner problems communities face and how people are fighting for education, affordable housing, and better communities. In July 2019, we welcomed students from the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) and gave them an experience of Chicago during the Taste of Chicago. While walking through the crowded Grant Park, I got to lead a group of students and talk to them about Chicago’s diversity and how different communities are. They told me about Iraq and the situations going on there, as well as how their lives are impacted because of the problems their country faces. Like the Youth Diplomats program, through IYLEP, the students get to experience opportunities to better help their communities.

Overall, these past two years in the Youth Diplomats has been amazing! I’m so thankful to get the experience talking to new people, as well as learn about new cultures and countries around the world. I’ve learned so much more about Chicago, like the diversity of communities, as well as how each community differs from the next. This program has allowed me to be more aware of situations around the world and be more involved within Chicago communities by volunteering and helping out people in need.

Emma Z:

When I walked into the office of WorldChicago for my Youth Diplomats interview, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had heard about Youth Diplomats from Iryna Iakusheva, my mentor at the Global Youth Ambassadors Leadership Summit (GYALS), a program that brought together 25 girls from around the world to discuss issues from a feminist lens. I decided to apply for GYALS because of my interest in connecting with girls from other countries to learn about our similarities and differences and how we can help each other overcome the challenges we face as women. Prior to attending the program, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study in college. However, GYALS piqued my interest in political science and international relations, which I expressed to Iryna. Thus, when she saw the advertisement for the Youth Diplomats program, she passed it along to me, thinking it would be something I’d be interested in applying to. She was absolutely right.

Even just applying to Youth Diplomats helped me expand on my knowledge of international relations. I was prompted to think about what it means to be a global citizen and my role in the international community. I realized that my love of the Chinese and Bosnian cultures and the work I’ve done because of this reverence has made me a global citizen. Bosnian has been ingrained in me since the day I was born. My parents emigrated here from Bosnia during the Yugoslavian War, and have worked to provide a stable life for my sister and me. My culture is something that I’m extremely proud of, and that I enjoy sharing with my school through the Bosnian Club I started. Similarly, I’ve been learning Chinese from a very young age, and throughout the years, I’ve participated in a variety of exchange programs and also tutor elementary school students in hopes of fostering positive U.S.-China relations. In the short time that I’ve been a part of Youth Diplomats, I have been able to connect with people from other states and countries, which has reinforced my value in being a global citizen.

Though we were only able to meet twice in person [in 2020], WorldChicago Youth Diplomats has already had a profound impact on my life. I will particularly remember our second session in which we volunteered at the Heartland Alliance speaking with immigrants about their journeys. One woman that I spoke with moved from Mexico to give her children a better education. It was inspiring to hear about how she persevered through so many barriers to provide for her family. I am looking forward to having similar experiences in Youth Diplomats next year, which I know will enrich the way I see the world and deepen my passion for the international community.

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