Reflections on the Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program

Reflections from two U.S. Cultural Ambassadors during the Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program 2018.

Camille Mason – U.S. Cultural Ambassador 2018

As a cultural ambassador for Saudi students this summer, I had the opportunity to act as a guide and mentor to such incredible individuals who changed my outlook on worldly affairs. Although I knew when I applied for the program that I’d be serving as a liaison between staff and students as well as guiding Saudis through American customs, trips and activities, what I pleasantly discovered was that I’d be learning alongside them. I loved hearing about their customs and how they differed from America, and exchanging comparisons and finding similarities between us. I realized that although we were raised differently, grew up in an entirely different part of the world, and live drastically different day-today lives, our fundamental values were actually very similar. They are all such kind and loyal people with giant hearts and positive outlooks on life.

Their friendly, generous, genuine, and most of all kind demeanor and attitude towards the world was so refreshing and incredible to watch. Generosity and respect was of utmost importance to them, and I noted each time they shared foods with each other, helped each other, and taught me something new. Having the opportunity to see the Saudis grow and learn throughout the three weeks I spent with them was incredibly rewarding and memorable. Walking out of this program, I feel so honored to have been alongside them throughout the process and have created lasting friendships which I will cherish for years to come.

After having completed my time as a cultural ambassador, I see the value in learning outside the classroom. The chance to be taught in a hands on environment is so worthwhile and eye opening and having the opportunity to travel around the United States and see the country through their eyes gave me a new perspective on my life as an American. Out trip to Chicago was my favorite time on the program and felt like a clear turning point when I began to connect with the Saudi students. Although I had been to Chicago many times before, I loved exploring new places, learning more about the city, and showing some of my favorite spots to my new friends. I appreciated their excitement and happy attitude even on the days where we were traveling on buses, seeing sites for long periods of time.

Having studied religion and political science in college, I felt confident coming into the program. What I found was that learning in knew a good amount about the traditions lot of background coming into the summer, however making the connections between what I had learned and what

Our finals days together were spent in DC preparing for the participants final project presentations and reflecting on our time together as a whole. Although I enjoyed every part of this journey, the end was by far the most rewarding. I saw the progress the Saudi participants had made throughout their time in the US, all that they had learned, and they took away from the program. Saying goodbye to everyone was a challenge but I know its just a see you later. I look forward to seeing what accomplishments they all have in their future.

Keep Saudi Arabia Weird: Haley Entrop – U.S. Cultural Ambassador 2018

At the beginning of my time as a Cultural Ambassador for the Saudi Emerging Young Leaders Program (SYLEP) I was unsure of what to expect what the group, from the curriculum, and from the entire experience. I had previously met only one person from Saudi Arabia at my university, and had only book knowledge of the country, its people, and its culture. This lack of previous experience made the job of spending time learning and growing with these participants even more rich and fulfilling for me.

I was not only a participant in the program but I was also working to bridge the gap between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). I enjoyed getting to represent the United States in such a way, especially if it meant making their time in the U.S. even better for the participants. This job meant that I was able to participate in all of the activities and workshops, as well as just hang out with people my age from across the ocean.

When I first met the participants I was exhausted from a full day of training for the coming weeks with Legacy staff, and assumed that after travel times ranging from 12 to 24 hours they would be exhausted as well. I could not have been more wrong. I have no idea what was powering their energetic and excited minds when we met that evening to go over the program and meet everyone, but at the risk of sounding sentimental I want to say their high spirit was from knowing what a journey they were about to have in the U.S. I can say without a doubt that this remained true throughout the program, and they consistently had high energy during late nights and early mornings, often giving me an energy boost just by association.

During their first stint in DC the participants were up and running (literally) at 5am every day, and stayed up and active until midnight. They loved seeing everything DC had to offer during off time after our workshops. We had as wide a range of speakers as we did activities. Our workshops provided the participants the ability to learn about volunteerism, American culture, leadership, and project planning. But their time learning was balanced out by some time exploring the city. We were able to go the Kennedy Center for a music show, the Smithsonian museums, and all of the iconic monuments. But I think the most enjoyed experience was the WNBA game where we saw the Washington Mystics score a W! This not only showed the participants a sporting event in the U.S., but it also showed them women playing a professional sport which was a unique chance for their experience.

After their time in DC I led a group of 10 participants to my home of Austin, Texas. They immediately took to our official slogan of “Keep Austin Weird” and made the most of their time in the live music capital of the world. We stayed on the University of Texas campus in the middle of downtown, which put them walking distance from all of the nightly music shows, vintage and thrift shopping, and amazing Tex-Mex food. We spent our time in the hot city staying cool doing strength-finding workshops inside where we were able to learn more about each other and our personal ‘ceilings’ and ‘basements’. This helped prepare the participants for the hard work that would come with preparing, presenting, and putting on their project.

We spent our downtime doing everything Austin had to offer. We went black light bowling at the underground student union, bat watching at congress bridge, watching sunset on Lady Bird Lake, taking pictures with murals and eating Amy’s ice cream on South Congress, shopping the thrift stores on Guadalupe, catching live music at Alamo drafthouse…the list goes on! To say that these participants maximized their time in this city is and understatement. I loved getting to see the city through a new perspective from the participants visiting, and enjoyed getting to show off the place I call home.

After and emotional goodbye to the team in Austin we departed to get back to DC and get rolling on their final touches to their project proposals they had been working on throughout the program. We had a workshop on the specifics of a project proposal, as well as how to make a dynamic pitch for the final end of program pitch event. The participants were enjoying all of their free time to do everything on their DC activity bucket list, but were also excited to put all of their practice and learning to use during the pitches and project interviews.

The mood at the pitch event and final dinner was simultaneously weepy and joyous. Everyone was so proud to present their projects and encouraging of all other participants doing the nerve-wracking pitches. But there was also and unspoken understanding that this was our final night together, and soon we would all be heading off on different adventures or heading back home. But if anything summed up the experience we all had during this program, it was the constant encouragement, excitement, and love that this group showed for one another during both down time and crunch time. I could not have asked for a better experience than to get to know these incredible change-makers, and create a second family all the way in the KSA.