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The Power of Diplomacy and Engagement in Focus at CIEE Civic Leadership Summit

In an effort to increase public diplomacy between the United States and countries around the world, CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange gathered 64 international college and university students from 31 countries in Washington D.C. to learn how to become changemakers during its third annual Civic Leadership Summit, August 3-6.

2015 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit Participants
2015 Civic Leadership Summit Fellows in front of the White House during a tour of Washington D.C.

Held each year at American University’s School of International Service, the Civic Leadership Summit brings together passionate, young leaders from around the world for a dynamic exchange on leadership, social entrepreneurship, and cultural understanding. Summit fellows are all part of the U.S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Program, which provides international students with the opportunity to live and work in the United States during their summer vacations. CIEE is the largest sponsor of the program in the country, bringing nearly 20,000 international students to the United States annually.

Over three days, Summit fellows engaged with experts in the field and shared their unique perspectives on civic leadership, while exploring the nation’s capital. CIEE’s goal is to help these students gain a better understanding of themselves and the United States that they can take back to their home countries.

“CIEE is committed to fostering mutual understanding and peaceful relations between people of the United States and other nations, and the Civic Leadership Summit is an important part of this effort,” said CIEE President and Chief Executive Officer James P. Pellow. “This year, we have fellows from Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and many other countries, learning from one another and exploring ways to make their communities, countries, and regions better places. We’re proud to play a role in building these important relationships among the people of different nations.”

That certainly was the case for Ghadeer Abu-rass, a student from Jordan who worked this summer as a hostess near the Grand Canyon. “I have met people from all over the world, I have been introduced to cultures I never thought I would meet – especially at the Grand Canyon,” she said. “We’ve shared our stories and learned so much from each other. I was even invited to a Navajo rain dance ceremony. I will never forget it."

Civic Leadership Summit Fellows with Robin Lerner
Civic Leadership Summit Fellows Aly Metwaly, Mahmoud Sadek, Ghader Aburass, and Manuel Cedeno with Robin Lerner, deputy assistant secretary for private sector exchange at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

A highlight of the Summit was a daylong workshop, the Be a Changemaker Challenge, led by Ashoka’s Youth Venture, an organization that inspires and supports teams of young people to launch and lead their own community-benefiting initiatives, clubs, organizations, and businesses. During the Challenge, fellows identified their passions to create change for social issues, and then worked in groups to develop plans for launching their own social ventures in their home countries.

“My Ashoka training got me thinking about things I never thought about,” said Umar Asghar, a student from Pakistan who spent the summer working as a cashier at a Cape Cod supermarket. “Not just thinking about how things can be different. But to understand how to create change and make it happen.”

Other Summit highlights included:

  • A screening of “Girl Rising,” a film created as part of a global action campaign designed to educate and empower girls. The film takes audiences on a journey around the globe to spotlight the stories of unforgettable girls who, despite being born into unforgiving circumstances, follow their dreams, raise their voices, and lead remarkable lives.

  • A session with Street Law, Inc., an international initiative that creates engaging classroom and community programs that teach people about law, democracy, and human rights worldwide.

  • Discussions facilitated by The World Justice Project, an independent, multidisciplinary organization that engages citizens and leaders to advance the rule of law, reducing corruption, combating poverty and disease, and protecting people from injustice.

Civic Leadership Summit fellows are selected based on essays or videos that describe their achievements as a global citizen and what they hope to gain from living and working in the United States. CIEE provides each selected fellow with a fellowship grant to cover the cost of attending the Summit, including travel, accommodations, meals, and activities.