Last Friday was Meredith Stilwell's last day at FIUTS, and we're going to miss her! Meredith has been with FIUTS since September 2013 as the Education Programs Assistant, and also worked full-time this past summer on International Student Orientation. She'll be moving on to start an internship at PATH while she finishes her graduate degree at the Evans School. We wish her all the best as she continues to do great work in international education, health, and development!
In honor of her incredible work at FIUTS, we have made a Top Ten list for her:
Top Ten Reasons Why Meredith is Awesome
1. Her unshakeable professional demeanor
2. Her persistent positive attitude
3. Her ability to relate easily to everyone, from work colleagues to university students to elementary school kids
4. She's calm and efficient, "like a tugboat" (says Tom)
5. The way she is always ready to help whenever needed - in addition to being a FIUTS staff member, she's been a volunteer homestay host and a Thanksgiving host too!
Meredith (fourth from left) with a volunteer team of FIUTS students at the 2014 MLK Day of Service
6. The perspectives she brought to FIUTS from her prior experiences working in Washington DC to coordinate study abroad programs and serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco
7. Her fresh fashion sense
8. Her contributions to the brand-new FIUTS SUSI program this past summer, particularly in building and coordinating a solid team of amazing SUSI Ambassadors
Meredith (far left) with SUSI Ambassadors
9. Her contributions to the 2013 and 2014 FIUTS Ride in the Rain team!
10. Her sincere dedication to FIUTS' mission. Meredith's work gave students of all ages and from all over the world opportunities for meaningful cross-cultural experiences, and we'll miss having her on our team!
Thank you for everything, Meredith, and we wish you all the best in the future. Keep in touch!
Guest Post by FIUTS Facilitator Fleur Li
My name is Fleur, and now I am in my third year studying Psychology at UW. I grew up in China, and move to the U.S. two years ago. I started getting involved in FIUTS mainly from my sophomore year. Now I am doing my semester abroad in Bristol, a harbor city in the southwest of England.
I met a lot of international friends through FIUTS who are actually studying abroad from another country. They studied different things, came here for different reasons, but they all agree on the experience of studying abroad is the best period of their college life. I was not sure why, but the idea of finding it on my own is so tempting -so here I am, doing my semester abroad in University of Bristol. For different people at different period of time, living abroad have various meaning to them. For me, it is more about a reflection of what I have done during the past two years of college and where I want to go- it becomes clear when you see yourself from a different scope and under different circumstances.
Harbourside - Photo by Fleur Li
Bristol is a lovely city to live in. A great combination of old middle age architectures and modern civilization makes it a diverse city - the longer you stay, the more you like it. You can study in a grand British-gothic style library room or go explore some nature just few miles from the city center. It’s easy to get to different places from here, 45 minutes train away from Cardiff, less than 2 hours to go to London, which makes travelling very easy.
Academic system here is quite different. It focuses on how much you don’t know instead of how much you do know. For example, even though you did super good in an exam you may probably just get 70%, whereas in America you may get a 4.0. It’s good in a way to always encourage higher academic achievement. The down side is students can get pretty discouraged at times. Moreover, there is not a lot of hand-in-hand guidance you can get. You are expected to be responsible for your own work. Planning your time and finish school work is more or less a project you need to figure out independently. They are definitely great skills that I gained here.
Bristol Cathedral - photo by Fleur Li
I am trying to experience British culture as much as I can. I have seen a few Shakespeare plays directed by my theatre-major friend; I have been to formal dinner when everyone up and sit along the long table (like in Harry Potter); I went to classical Christmas concert, hearing those old hymns normally sung in the church. History plays a huge part in British culture, so the traditions and manners are not pushed far away from everyday life.
Broadly speaking, the experience of living abroad can be inspiring, meaningful and challenging at the same time. Hanging out with people from different social backgrounds, with different ages, and speaking different languages is a great eye-opening experience. You may gain some surprise along the way, maybe find a favorite place you want to live, find a subject that totally fascinates you, meet the best friend of your life, or find out something you believed for a long time is totally wrong…If you have an idea of studying abroad, try your best to make it real. Even though you are an international student already, it is never too crazy to study abroad again.
Fleur, center, at the Clifton suspension bridge with friends Joji and Serginio
Each November, FIUTS connects Seattle-area community members with University of Washington international students to offer students an opportunity to experience the tradition of Thanksgiving. This year, 116 students were matched with local hosts, and even more hosts invited their past homestay students to join them for dinner. We're so glad that so many members of our community were able to share this experience.
Below are photos submitted by this year's hosts and students. Thanks to everyone who participated, and we wish you a very happy holiday season!
Above and below: Host Anne and Tim and family welcomed students Guangyu and Mengyun, who also enjoyed an after-dinner activity making gingerbread houses!
Regular FIUTS hosts Don and Theresa welcomed five students from three countries.
Emi and Dave and family enjoyed their third FIUTS Thanksgiving - this time with Lorenzo and Belu from Argentina!
Even FIUTS staff got in on the fun! Executive Director Era Schrepfer and family welcomed students from Mexico and India.
Erica and Jordan, their children, and host student Faye pose in front of some delicious-looking food!
Two views of a nice full table at the Fryhle household, with Takayuki from Japan. Below: They discovered that Takayuki had used Craig Fryhle's chemistry textbook at his university in Kyoto when he was an undergrad!
Host David Fulle (right) and family hosted new friend JJ (left) as well as past homestay students Seth and Tomoki. Looks like everyone just about cleaned their plates!
The Gardow family and host students Tzu-Heng and Rita enjoyed a big meal before watching the big game together.
Jana and Chris and daughter Gwen enjoyed a big meal and storytime with Sophia from Taiwan and son Lucas. Gwen even made special hats for everyone!
FIUTS board member Jodi Roy Wilson snapped a photo of Thanksgiving guests - including students from Mexico - with full plates!
New FIUTS hosts Theresa and Scott and their family had a great time enjoying turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and much more with Mohamed from Saudi Arabia.
Two views of the full table of longtime hosts Marilyn and Russ with past homestay students as well as new Thanksgiving friends.
A big, happy crowd at the McKee household!
The Branch/Moore household had a full table of 14 as well! Countries represented besides the U.S. were Nigeria, Japan, China, Taiwan, Pakistan and Hungary. In the bottom photo, Wei Lin, Fang Wen, Lei Zhang and Yi Zhang play Tenzi (Yi won)!
Host Nancy Coomer invited five additional Thanksgiving guests in addition to past homestay host students.
Longtime FIUTS hosts Pam and Steve, along with daughter Justine, welcomed 15 international visitors to their home for Thanksgiving, plus fun after-dinner games and karaoke!
A few of the six students hosted by new host Renee digging in to their big meal!
Host Sherry and Matt and family had a great time with Lizeth and Gabby from Mexico!
Host Barbara sent along photos of host student Kerry with everyone at the table, as well as Kerry (far right) helping to build a turkey made of fruit with Barbara's daughter, two granddaughters and niece.
New hosts Tom and Margaret included four FIUTS students in their Thanksgiving festivities.
New hosts Becky and Paul welcomed Sunita from China and Abdulhakim and Aishah from Saudi Arabia.
We are so thankful to all of our hosts for welcoming students to their homes, and to all of the students for sharing their cultures and taking this opportunity to learn about an American holiday.
For more information on getting involved in FIUTS community programs by hosting a student, click here.
Guest post by FIUTS facilitator Jiaqi (Kyki) Li
On November 22, I attended the FIUTS Fall Day of Service at Food Lifeline with three facilitators (Stephanie Lam, Mandy Niu, and Miko Qi) and seven participants. It was just the right time to do community service since one of the most important American cultural holidays - Thanksgiving - was coming in a week.
In the name of a day of service, we met outside of the Burke Museum around 11:30 am. The weather was cold since it was late November but people were fully prepared—both with layers and layers of clothes and an excited warm heart. Some of us had the experience of doing community service before while to others it was the first time. But all of us were very excited.
We took a 72 bus for roughly 40 minutes up to the northern part of Seattle and there is the Food Lifeline. For someone like me who is from a fast and busy city, the Food lifeline looks like a lovely white county house located in a quiet neighborhood, but as we went in, it actually is like a huge warehouse! Boxes and boxes of food located on stories and stories of shelves. All the food was surplus donated by the food industry. When the food, which might have otherwise gone to waste, came to the Food Lifeline, it was going to be transformed and redirected to hungry people and families who would not be able to afford enough food in Seattle. To all of us volunteers, it was amazing to take part in such a creative and beneficial service.
FIUTS student volunteers at Food Lifeline
There were not only FIUTS volunteers but also many local families volunteering at Food Lifeline that day. People came in with friends and their kids. It was good to see how the spirit of Thanksgiving—giving back to the society—was integrated in local American families’ daily life.
After a brief introduction of our duty that day by the Food Lifeline staff, each of us took a pair of hand gloves, an apron and a hair cap. All of a sudden we became like the laborers working along the assembly line. It turned out that there was a real assembly line.
Our work was divided into several categories, 2-3 people chopping the iced yellow waxed beans and shoving them into big boxes, some people tagging the bags and reassembling the beans into small bags weighing roughly 2 pounds, 1 person tying the bags up and putting them on the running assembly line and finally others grouping 8 bags into a big cardboard box. These sounds like boring work but it was actually not! The Food Lifeline did not specifically teach us everything so that the team working together figured out how to chop the beans with the least casualty, how to use the measure, and how to do everything fast and efficiently! By collaborating with one another, we all learnt some new skills and shared our appreciations of food and the hard work of those people who brought food to our dinner table.
In the end, we helped “repack 4248 pounds of frozen yellow wax beans in three hours, providing 3540 meals for the hungry people of western Washington.” It was fascinating to see how much work we did in just three hours and even better to see how many meals our work provided for the people in need.
On our way back, many of our participants expressed their happiness gained in making new friends while doing service, and their appreciation to FIUTS for providing such opportunity. There are no better ways to get the essence of American Thanksgiving spirit then participate in a real giving back activity!
Give back to FIUTS this Giving Tuesday (December 2) to help us offer programs like the Day of Service for students from around the world!
Guest post by FIUTS Facilitators Minhtu Nguyen, Joslyn Cal and and Jacky Chen
Our adventure started with 1.5 hour car ride from campus. For many participants, this was their first time passing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the fifth-longest twin suspension bridge in the US. The Frog Creek Lodge is a beautiful wooden lodge surrounded by a green grass lawn, forest, and hiking trails. Inside the lodge are a big cozy living rooms with fireplaces, a piano, guitars, rocking chairs, board games, a CD selection from timeless artists, etc., a large and fully equipped kitchen, and well-decorated bedrooms.
We arrived at the lodge right at lunch time. With a team of 20 people, we quickly made a delicious lunch in about 30 minutes including hot dogs, chili, fries, and salad. Even though it was chilly, we still decided to have lunch outside to enjoy the food, the beautiful sunny day, and the breeze. French fries and spicy sweet potato fries took longer to prepare and were perfect to warm us up at the end of an outdoor lunch in late fall.
After lunch, we went for a walk on the trails around the lodge. We occasionally encountered funny little frog statues along the way. Half way through the trail was a labyrinth. Charlie, one of the participants, led the whole group through the labyrinth and accompanied us with music from his guitar. It was such a nice and relaxing time for the group to escape the city life with school stress and feel the fresh air and quietness of the forests.
Back to the lodge, some of us spent time gathering around the fireplace while some were playing sports games. Ultimate frisbee was a good bonding time for the group. The lawn was quite slippery from the rain the day before but it didn’t prevent our two teams from playing hard. We ran, fell, laughed, supported each other, and had so much fun.
Following the sweating time with sports games, we gathered in the living room to play board games. It was very interesting to try different versions of UNO or different card games from different countries.
After fun and games in the afternoon, it’s time for dinner! Volunteers broke into two different stations, a pizza station and a spaghetti station. Within a house of vegetarians, a vegan and meat lovers combined, there were a lot of options to prepare. An upbeat group of 10 or so people in a hot, somewhat crowded, kitchen produced a Canadian bacon and pineapple, pepperoni, veggie and two cheese pizzas as well as veggie and meat spaghetti sauces and salad…delicious!
A clean up crew was swift and efficient in order to move on to our evening activities of chilling out, listening to music, a campfire, s’mores and enjoying Jacuzzi time. Under the (nearly) full moon, a campfire by the Jacuzzi was the perfect spot for making s’mores and passing around the popcorn bowl while chatting. It was some of the participants’ first time making s’mores. We all enjoyed them, even with our sticky marshmallow covered fingers and faces.
People spread out throughout the night, rotating between different groups and activities. Inside, a small group was playing quite an intense game of “Risk”, while a few of us played card games and chatted. Some remained in the Jacuzzi and others participated in sharing music, singing and talking around the fire-pit. Games and conversations inside the house lasted all through the night, some until early in the morning. A few of us night owls may or may not have been up until 3am… some of us may or may not have been up until 5am…but either way, it was a great day and night (and morning) of talking, laughing and lounging. The restful night’s sleep, which some of us may or may not have gotten, was complemented by early risers ready to prepare a spectacular breakfast on a beautiful sunny, Sunday morning.
The breakfast was awesome! We prepared a typical American style breakfast with pancakes, eggs, sausages, oatmeal, juice, milk and fruit. Similarly to what we had done for other meals, we divided into several groups to cook different dishes. Everything went on very well; we enjoyed the time of cooking and talking to new friends together.
More people woke up and joined the team of cooking, and some helped clean up afterward. Big thanks to everyone for their great help!
After the breakfast we wrapped up everything and prepared our own sandwiches for lunch. We said goodbye to the lovely lodge and the friendly owner, Mike, and then headed to the Penrose State Park near by. The view was nice as the sun came out, peaceful and warm.
Crescent Lake Park was our next visit. We did a short hike through the forest next to the lake. The air in the forest was cool and fresh. Exploring the unknown area with a group of new friends is a great experience for everyone of us. Then we headed to downtown Gig Harbor and had our picnic lunch at a small park. It is a small lovely town, with many beautiful houses and interesting shops.
As the sunset came, we headed back to campus, ending our fantastic weekend getaway to Frog Creek Lodge with new friendships and good memories.
******Photo credits: Sascha Krause, Yili Chen, and Minhtu Nguyen.
Guest post by FIUTS Youth Leadership Program alumnus Mateo Cocvic
On October 17th, alumni of the FIUTS Youth Leadership Program Spring 2014 organised a charity event in partnership with the organization Minores under the name ''Teenagers in Action.'' The purpose of the event was to collect food, medicines, and winter clothes for socially vulnerable families in city of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The reason why alumni decided to do the project is the fact that Mostar is counting more and more families that are not able to provide essentials for themselves. Families are not given any help by the government, the only help the get is from events like these.
See an article (in Bosnian!) and more photos from the service project here.
In the project three schools were participating: high school ''Gimnazija fra Grge Martića,'' high school "Jurja Dalmatinca'' and ''high school Faust Vrančić." The schools decided to give space for donations. During the event students of these school brought food, special essentials for babies, and winter clothes. After donations were received they were sorted and transferred directly to families. Not only students participated, but also many other people who wanted to give house essentials such as are carpets, pans, blankets etc.
The news about the event quickly spread and we had a postman bringing a package of food and hygienic basics in the name of the local post office. The next week hearing about the project local kindergartens and other school donated the food to organisation. The outcome was astonishing: all 15 families that Minores had in their data base were given food for next three months.
Photo from another Bosnian news article about the successful project!
We are overwhelmed with the number of people who helped us in this way or another. The teachers who spread the word, and young people who came to volunteer. And also the media. We (Mateo and teacher Danijela) gave interview for news paper ''Dnevni List,'' Doria did the local Tv ''RTM' and Mateo gave a radio interview and three for internet portals!
Great work, everyone!
The Youth Leadership Program with Bosnia and Herzegovina is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Learn more about the program here.
FIUTS Facilitators are student leaders from all over the world who welcome new international visitors, help to organize events, and lead activities for hundreds of students each quarter. Read on to find out more about the FIUTS facilitator experience from Joey!
Name: Joey Liao (Yunyi)
FIUTS Facilitator Since: 2014
Joey Liao currently lives in Seattle in pursuit of her Bachelor degree at the University of Washington with a major in Communication and minor in Education, Learning & Society. Originally born and raised in a small town in China, Joey has traveled to many places which have given her the chance to see and connect worldwide. She seeks truth, social justice and community, hoping one day she will work for an NGO helping shed light on more serious issues in the world.
What does it mean to be a FIUTS facilitator?
I couldn't find a better way to connect and give back to this community other than being a FIUTS facilitator. With the privilege to take on this leadership role, having access to many more resources, facilitators are fully encouraged to bridge further and deeper connections among individuals, helping them find a way to navigate through the seemingly daunting new lifestyle in a different culture.
As the word says, facilitators lead in a way to facilitate, which gives them the maximum chance to adjust and cooperate with peers to make the best experience out of it. It’s a great role for them to connect, share and learn from others.
FIUTS facilitators on the Fall Orientation Boat Cruise (Joey is sitting on the left in the front)
Favorite FIUTS anecdote as a facilitator
In the summer I facilitated FIUTS camp which has been recognized as one of the all time most popular events during orientation in FIUTS history. It’s a weekend long trip to a summer camp where students new to the Seattle area engage in a series of challenges and activities designed to break the ice and boundaries among them so to better connect with each other.
Apart from the crazy intense passion everyone showed during the "Campetition," it’s amazing to see how everyone’s coming with a welcoming attitude, open to meeting new people and making effort to get involved to know each other better. On the last day of Camp we spent the entire time doing cultural skits in which all students coming from over 30 different countries would come up with different forms of skits representing their culture or country. I had most fun watching them performing the unique creative pieces telling their stories.(Still amazed by the Japanese dancing skit I recorded on my phone!)
FIUTS Mini World Cup at Fall Orientation 2014
Tips/comments for peer facilitators
Take initiative, be spontaneous connecting with people you don’t know, model that behavior to encourage others to jump outside of their comfort zone as well.
Stay open-minded and culturally sensitive. Be aware that we may come from drastically different cultures and that certain beliefs, behaviors and norms don’t generalize to them all, and be respectful to them. Don’t hesitate or be shy to ask away if you’re genuinely not familiar with their culture.
Have fun! Rain or shine! All about good company and laugh together.
More Facilitator Corner posts:
Students and teachers from Bosnia and Herzegovina have wrapped up their time in Seattle and are off to the next part of their adventure! As they got ready to leave Seattle, five Youth Leadership Program participants wrote blog posts reflecting on the most significant aspects of their time here.
Here Come the Waterfalls - by Tijana Cvjetković
My name is Tijana and I'm a sixteen year old YLP participant from Sarajevo. This program started changing my life from its very beginning. I met new people, discovered new things, and most importantly, became a part of an amazing family for these short two and a half weeks.
I remember entering a room full of people I didn't know, people who would host us. I had already talked to my host mom, Sarah, via email, and was super excited to meet them. After they introduced us to our hosts, we had a short presentation and then headed home to spend the weekend with them. I drove home with my host dad and my five year old host brother, where my host mom and baby host sister were waiting for us.
As we drove there I kept thinking about how I'd fit into the family. I had no reason to worry, everything turned out perfect, just as I had imagined it. The kids accepted me like I was a part of their family forever, and my host parents were more than nice.
As the time passed, we became closer. I loved hearing about their day when I came home, playing with my younger siblings, waking up on the weekends and hearing them screaming and laughing... I loved everything about it.
But our time together passed so fast, and before we even knew it, we had had to say goodbye. Our final goodbye was a very sad moment. There were a lot of tears, a lot of "I don't want to leave" and "We want you to stay" and hugs. We had to say goodbye without knowing when we'll see each other again. That was the saddest, but the most heartwarming moment in the program.
As I said, this exchange has been a life changing experience from its very beginning, but it was my host family who made it this special. They changed their lives for these couple of weeks to welcome a new family member in their family, a family member who they loved and appreciated. And even though I'm sad about leaving, I'm more than happy that I've met these amazing people and had a chance to share this part of my life with them.
Thank you for everything!
Diversity is the spice of life - by Anđela Vračar
My name is Andjela, a 16 year old student from Bosnia and just few months ago I was a high school student who couldn't even imagine that one day I would pack all my dreams and wishes in a 22-pound suitcase. A trip from dreams to reality. Thoughts of family, friends, indescribable happiness and a glimpse of fear were running across my mind. I realize I won't be the same person anymore.
I have only been in the USA for 2 weeks but I can already feel the influences of culture and reality changing me towards better. In these 22 days that I have been here, I saw and felt what you cannot experience with the tour guides.
Experiences that I will treasure the most were the 2 days of high school, where I felt like a true American teenager. As you step in the hallway your senses are tingling in this unknown territory, but just as you see the smiley faces, your inconvenience disappears. The differences between the schools in America and Bosnia are so vast that they can't fit into one blog post. From choices of classes, students to the classroom decorations, everything is different. But just being in an American school is like being in a parallel universe.
One of the differences is the interaction between the students and their professors. In the America , I saw a friendly communication of teachers with students, while in Bosnia you can notice a certain distance but filled with the respect.
I was also pretty shocked with not just the number of subjects, but also with their variety. For example in America, students must choose 6 subjects and they study just these subjects during the year, while in Bosnia, students are obligated to have 15-17 different subjects. Many of the subjects in American schools, like theater, global leadership and sewing you cannot find in Bosnian schools due to the lack of space and teachers.
I am really thankful to students and teachers who were introducing me to the American education. As a student from a country far away, I would find it hard to adapt to the new system of learning, but when you have the support of other people, differences disappear.
One more thing that will stay with me are the friends I made those 2 days at school. People from another country, different culture and religion, became the same, yet different.
Opening my eyes to a whole new world - by Vanja Barač
Hi everyone my name is Vanja. I am from Bosnia and Herzegovina, I live in the second biggest city in BiH called Banja Luka. Thanks to this amazing Youth Leadership Program I am in beautiful Seattle. One phone call changed my life completely. I have been here for two weeks already and I've experienced a lot of new things. I try to enjoy every moment. The most fun thing was trying new foods and making new friendships. But not everything that we do is fun, we are not here in vacation we are here to learn and experience new things that can help us improve our community and ourselves.
A couple days ago we were at the Ballard Food Bank volunteering for two days. It was a really life changing experience, it made you realize that you have appreciate life that you're living. I was surprised how that place is filled with emotions and happiness. On our first day my friends and I were split into three groups and we were doing different tasks. My group and I were working on packaging food. I met a lot of homeless people and it really surprised me how happy they are. You can see a honest smile on their faces, they were happy and thankful to us. I talk to a lot of them about their lives and I felt really good because each one of us sometimes needs a person who will listen to our story. We met also a lot of staff members at the bank and they explained to us how their system works so I think that's really good for us because we can apply some things that we learned here in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On our second day we were in front of a supermarket sharing leaflets to people asking them to donate some food for the food bank. It was really exciting and fun. Some of the people were generous and some of them not but that's okay. We raised a lot of food and some money.
A couple days after we were at Marra Farms volunteering where we were weeding vegetables that will be donated to the food bank. I was really surprised by the system that people in USA have, I think it's amazing and I can't wait to suggest my friends to do the same thing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is really important that to people have places like this,it can happen to everyone....people lose their jobs, bankrupt, you never know what's waiting you tomorrow. We all appreciate everything that we learned here and I think that we can and we will MAKE A CHANGE. Always remember never give up because even if we fail what better way is there to live?
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take - by Namik Selimović
My name is Namik Selimovic, I was born in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thanks to FIUTS (Foundation for International Understanding Through Students), me and 17 other young leaders are visiting Seattle. This trip is slowly ending, and I just don’t want it to end.
When I applied for this program, I wanted to push my limits. And it was uncomfortable at beginning but, after a while you get used to people and speaking English 24/7 which is awesome. Suddenly you realize that you are so far from home, family and friends, but also you have 17 of your best friends in here.
When Ellen and Tom came to Sarajevo, we had a presentation about how to be a good team, and what does one team have to have in order to achieve success. I remember the definition of the team: “A Team is an entity in itself." The team is made out of links, and every link matters equally and if one link fails, everything falls apart. Honestly I thought that it’s impossible to make a team in 4 week period, but I was wrong.
When I came here I thought that I would not be able to trust anyone, but I do now. Everything is possible only if you put your mind into it. If you don’t try new things, and if you’re not trying to make some difference in your life, nothing is going to change. Because you don’t wait for the opportunity to come to you, you go and make one, and then try to use it. Because you have to fail, and fail, and fail until you succeed. You have to look deep down, and ask yourself who do you want to be. Pursue your dreams. “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.”
To end this blog, I want to give a big thank note you to FIUTS staff and volunteers, for making this experience the best I’ve ever had so far.
Memories for a Lifetime - by Lejla Zećo
During the last few weeks I learned and experienced more in Seattle than I had expected. We had an amazing time learning important and interesting things. This program is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, it astonished me every time. Not with all the tours and trips around the city, like the Space Needle, the EMP museum, Halloween, the city hall, Bainbridge Island or with the long lasting workshops, that were all great, but more the way all those components have been linked and put together in a way to have a interesting and at the same time meaningful purpose.
Their purpose and goal to teach us how to, not just lead people, what most might believe, but to become aware of all the issues and assets inside our communities on our own and empathize as well as work with the world and its needs. The FIUTS organization has done a great job in finding ways to engage us in the program as much as possible. They have as well shown a great deal of compassion for the purpose of this program and us YLP members as a team. All their effort have made it hard for me to decide which event has inspired me the most, every event made me smarter, more informed, aware and willing to work hard for a better society.
The stay in Seattle was also very interesting since we embraced a new way of life, different cultures, different beliefs, and a better insight of the history of Seattle. In some moments it was challenging to step out of the “comfort zone” and become more flexible and open for new things but I surely do not regret a single moment of it. I had always wished for an opportunity to spend the time experiencing the life in a different country than my own. I made a lot of new friends from my country and met a lot of very nice people from all around the world that talked about their experiences, goal and dreams. I will surely miss Seattle and all the lovely people I have met that were a great inspiration but I will take with me all I have learned from them and try to use that knowledge and inspiration for further life experience.
The Youth Leadership Program with Bosnia and Herzegovina is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Learn more about the program here.
The following "Guide to Kuwaiti Culture" was written by FIUTS Lead Facilitator Bader Alfarhan to introduce Kuwait to anyone who plans to spend time there, or is just interested in learning more. Feel free to share it with others!
All photos in this post were taken by Bader at Souk Al-Mubarakiya, a market in downtown Kuwait City.
Moving to a new country can be a very exciting and daunting experience all at the same time. While you might feel a bit confused and misunderstood at times, it’s important to know that it is completely normal to feel this way. Over time, you will start to get the hang of things, as you will have more time to learn of the local customs, language, people, and etiquette.
In Kuwait, the way that two people greet each other is determined by their sex, age, and relationship. Kuwaitis exchange pleasantries when they greet each other, and ask about one’s health, work, family, and friends. They often do not wait for a response. You can respond by saying, Bekhair, the Arabic word for “All is good”, Tamam, the Arabic word for “Good”, or Hamdillah, an Arabic word that roughly translates to “Thankful to God”.
Man x Man; Woman x Woman
When two people of the same sex are first introduced, they extend their hands for a handshake, and say Tasharfna, an Arabic word that translates to “Pleased to meet you”, or Alsalam, the Arabic word for “Hello”. Kuwaitis that are well acquainted greet members of their same sex with a kiss on both cheeks, starting with the right cheek. While some Kuwaitis might plant a kiss on the other person’s cheek, others will simply just brush their cheeks against the other person’s cheek and make a kissing sound. Kuwaitis often greet elders by kissing their foreheads.
Man x Woman
When a man and a woman that are related to each other by blood  greet each other, they would cheek kiss each other, just as they would with a person from their same sex.
If the man and the woman are not related to each other, then the man waits for the woman to extend her hand for a handshake. Some women extend their hands for men, while others choose not to due to religious reasons. Same goes for men. A good way to tell whether or not the person that you’re about to greet would feel comfortable with a handshake is to pay attention to their body language. Kuwaitis that are reluctant to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex will tend to greet each other verbally from a distance, bow their heads, or will simply have their hands clasped in front of them. Children greet adults of the opposite sex with a kiss on both cheeks.
Do not take it personally if a Kuwaiti refuses to shake hands with you! Kuwaitis might let out a laugh in a lighthearted manner if you make a mistake, but will be happy to correct you, as they’ll be aware that you’re a foreigner.
Titles & Nicknames
Kuwaitis often address their peers and friends by their first name or nickname. It is very common for Kuwaitis to have more than one nickname – one to be used by family members at home, one to be used by coworkers, etc.
Kuwaitis address older-aged family friends and parents of their friends with ‘ami (paternal uncle) or khalti (maternal auntie). In professional work settings, Kuwaitis address men with Istath (mister) and women with Istatha (miss) followed by their first name. It is okay to start calling an older person by their first name if they invite you to do so.
In American school classrooms where English is the main language of instruction, Kuwaiti students address their teachers with Mister or Miss (regardless of whether or not the teacher is married). In classrooms where Arabic is the main language of instruction, Kuwaiti students address their teachers with Istath or Miss. Teachers in Kuwait do not go by their last name.
Social Customs in Kuwait
Just like any other culture in the world, Kuwaitis have their own customs and traditions. Mentioned below are a handful of their customs.
Kuwaitis can be seen wearing either traditional or Western clothing.
The Kuwaiti man’s traditional outfit consists of the dishdasha (robe – usually white), gahfiya (white cap), qitra (head cloth), and ‘agal (black halo). Kuwaiti men can also be seen wearing t-shirts, shirts, jeans, sweatpants, shorts (covering the knees) and sandals –
just to name a few. Kuwaiti men are rarely seen wearing tank tops or shorts (above the knees) in public places other than the beach. Men wearing any shorts above the knees are not permitted to enter mosques or police stations.
The Kuwaiti woman’s traditional outfit consists of the abaya (black robe) and hijab (headscarf). Kuwaiti women might also wear jeans, pants, skirts or shorts (that cover the knees), or even niqabs (face veils). While women are not required to wear a hijab or an abaya in public, women in Kuwait often dress modestly and will not wear sleeveless shirts, tight clothing, or revealing dresses (that expose their armpits or breasts). Bikinis can only be worn in some private hotels and resorts.
Keep in mind that a Kuwaiti’s choice of clothing does not necessarily reflect his or her political/religious beliefs!
Kuwait is a collectivistic society as opposed to being individualistic. In Kuwait, the needs of a person’s social groups in society are valued more than an individual’s needs. Thus, Kuwaitis often take to consideration the opinions and wishes of their family members before arriving to a decision.
Kuwaitis place less emphasis on punctuality than do people in many other countries. It is very common for Kuwaitis to not arrive to scheduled meetings or events on time. While Kuwaitis do consider excessive tardiness to be impolite, they will often tolerate the tardiness of those that they hold dear to their hearts. Furthermore, a Kuwaiti’s sense of punctuality will often depend on the situation. For example, while Kuwaitis might not bother to arrive on time to a friend’s birthday party, they will make an effort to arrive on time for a dentist’s appointment or final exam!
Kuwaitis tend to stand about two feet away from each other when conversing with strangers or people of the opposite sex (outside of their family), and about an arm-length apart from each other when conversing with family members and friends. However, Kuwaitis stand much closer to each other when they’re in a queue.
Kuwaitis often exchange pleasantries and discuss trivial matters before getting to the main topic of discussion. Kuwaitis employ an indirect communication style when conversing with each other to spare the other person’s feelings and allow both sides to save face. Kuwaitis find it polite to “pause” or “discontinue” a personal conversation when a new person walks in to make that person feel welcomed and included.
Kuwaitis are well known for their hospitality and generosity. It is always polite to accept—no matter how little—food or drinks that are being offered to you by your host. While some Kuwaitis might take offense if a guest rejects their offerings, others will simply stop with the insisting.
Kuwaitis like to celebrate special occasions by giving out gifts to their relatives, friends, neighbors, and even their acquaintances. The type of gift depends on the giver’s relationship to the recipient. For example, a small, inexpensive gift such as a box of chocolate can be given out to a neighbor or an acquaintance at work when one returns from a trip abroad; however, expensive gifts, such as designer-made watches and bracelets are only reserved to close relatives and friends that could be getting married or graduating from college. Gifts are not to be opened when received – a small thank-you note or text to be sent to the gift giver afterwards is always appreciated!
Not all Kuwaitis regard domestic animals as highly as others might do in other places in the world. While some animals such as goats are valued highly by Kuwaitis for their religious significance (Eid sacrifice), other animals such as pigs are not favored as much as Muslims are forbidden to eat pork. Families that do have dogs, usually—but not always—leave dogs outside the house to serve as guard dogs.
Most Kuwaitis are adherents to the religion of Islam. However, it’s important to note that not all Kuwaiti Muslims believe in the same thing—some might hold more conservative beliefs than others, belong to a different sect of Islam (Sunni or Shiite), etc. While some Kuwaitis are tolerant to members of other religions, others are not as accepting.
Racism & Discrimination
Racism and discrimination in Kuwait are prevalent at varying degrees—some get affected more than others. However, no one’s quite immune from racism/discrimination in Kuwait. In today’s increasingly globalized world, individuals in Kuwait are seen as having more than one identity—belonging to more than one social group. In no discernible order, a person’s ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, socio-economic class, profession—to name a few—all play a role in determining how a person is treated by the mainstream Kuwaiti society. Yet, those that make an evident effort to be culturally respectful, end up being treated more favorably than others by both Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis.
Crimes & Safety
Recent reports have shown that Kuwait is among the safest countries in the Middle East. Crimes that occur in Kuwait are mostly targeted and not random. When crimes do occur, there tends to be a pre-existing personal relationship between the attacker and the victim. Women and men are not advised to walk alone in poorly lit areas late at night. Always agree with the taxi driver on a price before you hop in a cab.
About the Author
Bader Alfarhan is a third year sociocultural anthropology major at the University of Washington, Seattle. An Al-Bayan Bilingual School alumnus, Bader has travelled extensively to more than 30 countries and territories – having just gotten back from a study abroad trip to French Polynesia. Bader enjoys spending his free time volunteering as a Lead Facilitator with the Foundation of International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS). Bader can be reached at alfarhan.bader (at) gmail.com -- he will always be happy to answer your questions may it be in regards to Kuwaiti culture or the lives of Kuwaitis studying abroad!
 In this definition, the term blood excludes “cousins” as cousins are allowed to marry each other under Sharia (Islamic) law.
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The participants in the Youth Leadership Program with Bosnia and Herzegovina are adapting to daily life in the Seattle area and learning all kinds of things about local culture. They're also gaining skills and confidence to be leaders in their own communities once they return home. Read four excellent blog entries by Ena, David, Irfan, and Anja about their experiences!
A life-changing experience - by Ena Jusufbegovic
I'm just a regular high school student and my name is Ena Jusufbegovic. But one call changed my life, I found out that I am a participant of Youth Leadership Program. That's a big thing for a 16 year old girl from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Being here is so much fun and I enjoy every second. So far, I have had two host families, and both of them are very nice, and I feel comfortable with them. My current host family has a dog and a cat, and I like that because I'm an animal lover. I also have two dogs at home.
The Youth Leadership Program is a great opportunity for young people to become active citizens and to learn how to make a change. It also brings you many new experiences, friends, you get to see many places you might never see again, all mixed together with a lot of fun. Everything is interesting, and you just can't be bored.
But one place we visited left a big impression on me and I admire people who donate, volunteer and work for food banks. I visited one food bank in Seattle. I volunteered there for two days and I really liked that place. It's warm and full of feelings. Everyone who walks in is there because they have a reason. But all those people are nice, generous and you feel their sadness disappearing when you smile at them. You feel great when you realise that you are helping someone. Talking to them and collecting food for them was a big experience for me. Seeing all the generous people bringing donations makes me really happy because I can feel that we are helping. I decided to do more volunteering and to get involved when I get home. I feel like we need a food bank there too, because it is useful and it helps people. I know that many people would be willing to help and to participate in opening food banks in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
We just need to put some effort and we can do it because people in need deserve to have a place like that. No one can choose their faith and you never know what is going to come to you in your lifetime. We have to think about others and consider their opinions. We can do a survey and see if people are interested in opening food bank, and if they are, we should make a plan how to do that. I also think that we can do anything by ourselves if we try hard enough. Even if we fail at first, we should never give up. We need to fight for what we want.
I came to America to learn a lot, and I feel like I'm already accomplishing my goal. There is so much to learn and I'm excited to use all the knowledge when I get home. I hope that our group will make a change in our community in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Holy Grail - by David Jeremic
Woah, we’re here. I can’t believe it. One day, I’m sitting in my English class, next day I’m traveling the world and living my dream. This is so weird. I’m so thankful to the people that helped me get this far. I’ve met some people on this trip I know I can count on. Even though we’ve barely started, I’ve had some experiences that’ll keep me motivated no matter what I do.Just being here proves to me that I am able to accomplish anything. My flaws are not a setback,they are a challenge to overcome. The reason I entered this program is because I saw that both my country and me need to change. We need to toughen up and make the changes that are necessary. I'm doing that,and I know if people like this run our country, we’ve got nothing to worry about.
Since our arrival, we’ve learned so much it’s hard to put it in a short blog entry, so I’ll describe what affected me the most. A few days ago,we visited the University of Washington for the first time, and it was like BAM!, this is my future school. The second we walked in, I knew this was the thing I was working toward. The way the University works, the way people help each other, how everything is so vast and organized just affected me. It was déjà vu, I knew that I had been here before, and I was coming back. I’m the kind of person that needs a palpable goal to reach. Now that I’ve found that, I'm like a star, you can't stop my shine.
We’ve had plenty of seminars which have taught us new ways to improve our communities,and that’s exactly what I intend to do. People say change is hard. I say they’re right, it is hard, but it’s not impossible. We have a lot of problems, but if we work towards solving them,we will solve them. If people tell you “You can’t do this,” turn around, smile in their faces and tell them “Yes we can!”
To green or not to green, there is no question! - by Irfan Osmanović
To be a true Seattelite is to recycle, to watch in which bin you're throwing your trash away and to be aware of importance of preserving nature.
Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Irfan Osmanovic and I'm a 17 year old high school student from Bosnia and Herzegovina. I came to Seattle about ten days ago with Youth Leadership Program, which is hosted by Foundation for International Understanding Through Students and funded by U.S. Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (Thank you!).
In the past week and a half I have truly learned a lot, in sessions and in classes, but there are many valuable life lessons I have learned from my hosts and other Americans. Lessons like environmental care.
To be honest, although I have been traveling a lot in the past, I have never seen a nation so aware of importance of clean and safe environment for our and future generations. Anywhere you go in the city of Seattle you'll see water wells where you can pour water into your bottle for free, for no money and for no harm for the environment, you will also see recyclable napkins, tissues and boxes in every restaurant. Main purpose of recycling is trying not to create unnecessary waste. My host parents have showed me how to get used to dividing my trash and leftovers every single day into different trash cans, so they can be properly recycled. Environmental care became significant part of American culture, and American culture is one of the reasons why I'm here!
Recycling is not implemented at all in my country, but I will be proud of coming back home with such knowledge. I will make sure to let everyone know that I won't remember Seattle for its amazing downtown, shopping malls, Space Needle or rainy weather, but I will always remember the Emerald City as a city of pure and clean love for our planet.
Stepping out of my comfort zone - by Anja Gavrić
Hello everyone! My name is Anja and I am 17 years old. I will start off by telling you how I felt before coming to USA so you can understand my story, or even the title.
Being chosen for this program was a big deal to me. I mean, I get to meet new people, try new food, learn, etc. But there was one problem, I was too scared of being judged. Before the pre-departure program in Sarajevo I thought to myself: "These people don't know you so make a good first impression." I still couldn't do it. Being in a room with 17 different people was hard and scary to me. I was usually "sitting in the corner" and agreed to everything just so I don't say something stupid.
I kept doing that until I got a challenge: I had to lead the first morning meeting with my friend Vanja. Morning meeting is a meeting where you usually talk about a subject that's connected to the program. Now imagine you had to do something for the first time that you never saw anyone do, but you are under pressure that it has to be perfect so people don't judge you. Terrifying, right? If I said that I was feeling fine the night before and the day of the morning meeting I would be lying. I was a nervous wreck. But, somehow, the meeting went great! Everyone participated and no rude comments were thrown at us. It was the moment that I started feeling as a member of the team.
That day was the day that I opened up. I'm much more relaxed now and I can talk to everyone now because I feel accepted. Will I be like this when I get back home? Maybe, but it's important for me to know that I made that first step and that's a progress. Thanks YLP!
The Youth Leadership Program with Bosnia and Herzegovina is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Learn more about the program here.