This summer, five students from American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) were among 84 undergraduate students from different provinces of Iraq who spent their summer in the US as part of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP).
IYLEP is a four-week exchange program funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that provides both high-school and university students with the opportunity to spend one month in the United States. As an exchange program, IYLEP presents an opportunity for students from all over Iraq to experience living and learning in American communities. The program also aims to bring diverse Iraqi communities together, and to break stereotypical ideas of American people about Iraq and vice versa. Since 2007, IYLEP has created a generation of young Iraqi leaders who have taken their experiences back to their communities.
AUIS students Zryan Ibrahim, Tara Burhan, Rand Salahuddin, Shlova Jabar, and Ismael Jamal began their summer program in Dearborn, Detroit, where they, along with other participants, spent their orientation week at Wayne State University. The students were then divided into groups and spent 18 days at host universities, which included the University of Arkansas, California State University - San Marcos, the University of Texas - Austin, and Washington State University. Each university hosted leadership workshops on particular themes including the environment and cultural preservation, public health, public administration, and public affairs.
Tara Burhan: “I can honestly say that IYLEP is a once in a lifetime experience. Before the program, you think that you are going to America and you are going to learn about American culture only, but we finished the program knowing more about our own diverse Iraqi culture. We learned to love our differences and the fact that we all come from diverse and different backgrounds, and we embraced them with love. I personally got to know myself more and I ended up realizing that I’m capable of doing many things I never thought of. IYLEP shows you your weaknesses and it helps you overcome them to become a young, inspirational leader to yourself before others. I would happily repeat this experience every year if I could!”
Zryan Ibrahim: “IYLEP is an amazing program, and I was lucky enough to be a part of the journey. Throughout the program, I was able to build many connections and deal with people that I have not met or worked with, and most importantly, I was able to enhance my knowledge and improve my skills including, in leadership and critical thinking.The program brings future leaders of Iraq together, and almost everyone has the same potential for leadership and making changes in their community.”
Ismael Jamal: “It was the first time for me to do something outside of my comfort zone. Before participating in IYLEP, I was only able to work with the people with whom I was comfortable; however, during the program, I got to work, share a room, eat, have conversations, do team work, and exchange resources with many different kinds of people. Indeed, I was not comfortable with many of them, but I had to do it no matter what. At the end of the program, I learned that I am capable of working and doing something even if I am not comfortable with it. That was the best lesson I learned in the program.”
Rand Salahuddin: “Before IYLEP, I knew I would come back with greater knowledge and skills. But, what I didn’t expect was learning about myself! I realized that I’m capable of many things that I didn’t know and at the same time that I have negative sides too that I wasn’t aware of. Knowing your weakness and strengths is very important when you want to build your personality. I’ve always wanted to be independent and couldn’t be more independent than when I was in the US because I was on my own without my family for the first time! Living for a month abroad with people from different backgrounds is greater than one thinks.”
Shlova Jabbar: “I would say that IYLEP was a very different experience in the sense that we had to adapt to new places and new people in a very short time, it was not easy but we tried to make the best out of it and thus it was a very beautiful journey.”