Reflections from a Global Travel Scholar


It is hard to believe that it was one year ago that I was preparing for my trip to Costa Rica.  I can remember the excitement and anticipation that I had as the day of departure got closer and closer.  I was going shopping for items I thought I may need and spending time with family and friends that I wouldn’t be able to see for a month.  All of the preparations were exciting and it was fun to spend time with my mom as she helped me pack.  I remember sitting in my room the night before I left with my younger sister, Heather.  As excited as I was to go, it was going to be really hard to leave my family, especially my sister, because I was going to miss them so much.  We stayed up all night just talking and crying a little but we knew that it would be a good experience for both of us.  As I got on the plane from Pittsburgh and began the first part of my journey, it finally hit me that I was going to be spending an entire month in Costa Rica with people I had never met before – not to mention all of the new adventures that lie ahead of me.  It was terrifying, but in a good way.  I was scared, but my excitement held me together and allowed me to step onto the plane.

I am so glad that I was given the opportunity from the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh to travel to Costa Rica because it was honestly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and it has had such an important impact on my life.  I would not trade it for anything.  I met some of the most amazing people during my trip and made so many great friends.  There is no way for me to sum up my trip in a few words because so much happened and I did not recognize the changes and effects it had on me until I got off the plane in Pittsburgh and adjusted to life in the United States once again.  I was told many times that I would come home a different person and that I would see the world in a new way when I returned, but I did not believe it.  I knew what I wanted to be in the future.  I knew who I was and I did not think the experience would have that large of an impact on me.  My mentor told me that the transition back to the United States would be as difficult as the transition into Costa Rica.  I didn’t believe this either.  I thought how could I have difficulty adjusting to life back at home?  But everything that people told me before I left held true.

The people that I met in Costa Rica, my group leader, Max, my group members, and the Costa Ricans all left lasting impressions on my life.  My group of ten from all over the United States and one member from Chile al became such close friends.  It was as if we had known each other for years.  I still talk to most of them via Facebook and texting.  In the one month that we were together we all formed a really close bond that will remain for a long time even though we are all so far apart.  My group leader Max was amazing.  He was so knowledgeable about his country and was a great tour guide.  But this was his job.  The part that set him apart from any tour guide was the fact that he connected with each of us on a personal level.  He knew that we missed home at times and knew how each of us needed help.  He was easy to talk to and really knew how to talk to us.  Max was definitely one of the reasons I enjoyed my trip as much as I did and I still communicate with him on occasions.

When I got home, like my mentor said, I had a difficult time adjusting.  I missed the friends that I had become so close with and the country that I had lived in and become a part of for the past month.  Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to get home and see my family and friends that I had missed so much but I wanted to take them with me back to Costa Rica and all of my new friends.  It was strange not waking up in Costa Rica to the sounds of the rain forest or the ocean.  It was weird being home and back in the chaos and busy schedules in the United States.  Eventually I adjusted back to my normal schedule of soccer and summer assignments and that is when I really noticed that changes that had occurred within me.  I was not a completely new person.  I still wanted to study biomedical engineering in college and become a medical researcher.  I still liked to play soccer and spend time with my friends and family.  It appeared like the trip hadn’t changed me too much.

But once the shock of being home wore off I recognized subtle changes in myself.  I was more confident in myself.  I was not afraid to be who I was.  I was not as worried about what others thought of me.  I wasn’t afraid to talk to people and try new things.  I was more adventurous and outgoing.  These were all skills that I learned in Costa Rica.  I faced my fears in Costa Rica.  I did things I never imagined I would do and it made me grow as a person.  I noticed other subtle changes, like the attention I paid to how my actions affected the environment and how I thought of things on a more global level instead of just my community or area.  Almost one year later, I still think of my experiences in Costa Rica, the friends I made, and the lessons I learned.  It is something that I will never forget because it truly is an experience that has forever changed my life.  I am so grateful for the chance the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh has given me because of the impact it really has made on my life even one year later.

By Heidi Schmidt, 2012 Global Travel Scholar


Lean In, Rise Up

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Summer Seminar on World Affairs, Air Conditioning, Power, and Girls

Last week marked the World Affairs Council’s Summer Seminar on World Affairs, when about 60 area high school students gathered in the well air-conditioned Bayer Learning Center at Duquesne University each day to hear from several distinguished guests about the world they are about to inherit. We began with an interview with Ambassador Cameron Munter, former ambassador to Pakistan, and included sessions with a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force, an economist, photojournalists, writers, and documentaries. The chilly students engaged with each speaker, asking thoughtful questions, even asking a PNC economist about derivatives–whew. Students also participated in policy scenarios representing different actors in a Chinese labor dispute and video conferenced with students from schools in Taiwan and South Africa, both of which seemed to be gathered in warmer classrooms.

While last week’s seminar was not school, it did involve some homework. Each student received in their folder two items from the May/June issue of Foreign Policy; the first was the annual Power Listing, where FP collects their choices for the 500 most powerful international figures, in politics, business, media, crime, and military. The second was a commentary on this listing, where David Rothkoph writes that the most alarming factor of this list is that women consist of merely 10 percent of the list. How is it that 50 percent of the population continues to be shut out from the boardrooms and the podiums despite women’s equality in the developed world?

It starts with education. Wednesday our students watched the film Girl Rising, beautifully documenting the challenges for nine girls as they demand their education. Educating girls continues to be a challenge, especially in rural communities, where families feel that they cannot spare the extra help around the house, and girls simply aren’t worth the investment.The benefits for educating girls are extraordinary–by welcoming girls into the schoolhouse, a community doubles its educated work-force. Bibhuti Aryal, founder of the Rukmini Foundation, a Pittsburgh based organization raising funds for educating Nepalese students, added to our discussion: “When you educate a boy, you educate a man. When you educate a girl, you educate a family.”

At our very own Summer Seminar, 37 out of the 60 students were female. Students were asked to share their career ambitions; responses included international lawyer, doctor, journalist, and even future Secretary of State–goals that were indistinguishable by gender. Women in the United States have outnumbered men in postgraduate education since 1988. While the film focused on education in developing countries, it’s clear there are questions to ask ourselves in the US. If women are receiving more education, why aren’t they in power? Perhaps we have yet to see the fruits of shifts in education. Perhaps current education trends will precede hiring trends, and executive offices in the next years will fill with more and more women. Perhaps not–maybe we remain in a cycle of discrimination, or maybe women tend to be less likely than men to put career goals ahead of family life.

Whatever the reason, there was a bright signal of hope for equality of opportunity in the presentation of Laila Al-Soulaiman. Ms. Al-Soulaiman graduated this past spring from Ellis School, and while only 18, she captivated her audience during her presentation of the Syrian Awakening. Al-Soulaiman’s passion for the cause of her homeland struck a chord in every student, serving as a living example of what students are capable of, regardless of their age. While women continue to be underrepresented in positions of power, young women such as Laila Al-Soulaiman and the students from the Summer Seminar will continue to make their own opportunities, ignoring the fact that they’re breaking ground–they’ll be too busy building.

By Ian Graham, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern

A Few Questions for the Dutch Ambassador

The Council recently welcomed the Ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States, Ambassador Renée Jones-Bos, to Pittsburgh.  While the Ambassador was in town, she had a number of meetings and events to attend, many specifically related to the Distinctively Dutch Festival that was held, but she took some time to speak with Leah Dunn, a student from Northgate High School. In their brief interview, they discuss a multitude of topics, including: the Ambassador’s career path, the importance of learning different languages, the relationship between the Netherlands and the U.S., the euro-crisis, higher education in Europe, and careers in international affairs.

If you’re interested in hearing more from Ambassador Jones-Bos, check out her interview on the Council’s weekly radio show, Global Press Conference, on KQV Newsradio (here).

Summer Internship and Global Learning Opportunties

It’s the time of year when students’ thoughts begin to drift toward the end of the semester and the summer vacation that comes along with it. Many high school, college, and graduate students are trying to decide how to spend that time away from class. A google search for “internships” or “international affairs internships” or “internship abroad” turns up millions of hits — we’ve tried to narrow that field down to some of the best.

After the jump, you’ll find a list of internship opportunities, global learning programs, and additional resources to use for a more in-depth search. These are all organizations that we feel are trustworthy and worthwhile, but make sure to do your own research, too!

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Great International Resources for Students & Teachers

We at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh are always looking for ways to help out our students and teachers learn more about the world. In that vein, we have put together a list of some of our favorite online educational resources. These links include a wide range of information, including facts, photos, videos, podcasts, books, discussion boards, and lesson plans.

We have identified some general international resources at the top of the list. After the break, you’ll find information and resources relating to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.


 CIA World Factbook An excellent compilation of country facts (i.e. population, geography, etc.).

CNN for Teachers and Students Spotlights the day’s current events and offers printable quizzes, discussion questions, and maps.

National Geographic Kids A variety of resources are present on this website, including an online atlas with road, satellite, physical, and theme maps (population density, weather, and natural resources) as well as country profiles and pictures from around the world.

New York Times for Teachers and Students This blog highlights the day’s events, but also offers everything from lesson plans for teachers and comment boxes for students.

Outreach World This website offers a wealth of information for teaching students about the world. Under ‘Download Instructional Materials,’ it is possible to search for lesson plans by region of the world and age group.

PBS for Teachers Exclusively for teachers, this site acts as a network for lesson planning, programming, and resource guides.

PBS News Hour for Teachers and Students Offers lesson plans for teachers, but is also a great resource for students looking to comment on and follow world events.

Peace Corps World-Wise Schools Also provides lesson plans and resources created by Peace Corps volunteers around the world.

 Time for Kids Interactive and informative, and is applicable to teachers and students. The site has sections with age-specific material.

Region-specific resources can be found after the jump.

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Council Sending (Record) 18 High School Students Overseas This Summer

PITTSBURGH, PA –The lives of eighteen area students are about to get a lot more exciting.  In just two months’ time, the students will be jetting off to all corners of the world to immerse themselves in the daily lives of Australians, Germans, Spaniards, Turks, Thai, Costa Ricans, and nine other native populations.  These high school juniors – selected as Global Travel Scholars by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh – will leave behind friends, family, and the familiar comforts of Western Pennsylvania to discover first-hand the joys and challenges of living in a foreign country.

This marks the eighth year that the Council, in partnership with The Experiment in International Living, has provided this unique opportunity to local students.  Through the generous financial support of regional foundations, corporations, and others, the Council is sending its largest and most diverse group of Scholars, representing eleven different high schools, to fifteen different countries.

Maston Casto, a junior at Pittsburgh Carrick High School, will be spending four weeks in Chile exploring some of the country’s most picturesque and culturally-varied regions.  He is excited about the opportunity to put his high school Spanish to the test.  “The idea of practicing the knowledge and vocabulary I have accumulated with native speakers thrills me,” enthuses Casto.  “The fact that I won’t be able to slip into English when I experience problems communicating should make each day more interesting and memorable,” he notes.

Read more about the Scholars, the Global Travel Scholarship program, and those who make it possible, after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

>Thinking Outside the…Classroom!


Hopefully you caught the Sunday’s editorial in the Post-Gazette by Ryan Oliver, a social studies teacher with City Charter High School.  He presented some pretty interesting ideas about education reform.  Currently, Ryan and 18 City High students are taking education to a new level. They’re on a “learning journey” in Costa Rica.  The goal? Self development through cultural exploration, service learning, and environmental study.
Follow their adventures through their blog — hosted here by the Post-Gazette.  (Look at the right-hand side, under “More World — Blogs Abroad.”)