Spotlight: Fall 2021 Learning Life Interns

Learning Life’s interns do vital work responsible for the vibrance and growth of our programs.  This fall, their work included outreach to thousands of people worldwide on Facebook and Linkedin to help grow our Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI) membership, screening of young Family Diplomacy Ambassador applicants, research on citizen diplomacy, fundraising research and outreach, building the invitation list for our Democracy Dinnersdeveloping our website and video communications, and more.  Learning Life is very grateful for their dedicated workYou can learn a little about each of them below. 

AMAL BURBAR

Year, Major and school: I recently completed a Master’s Degree in International and European Law specializing in Diplomacy & Strategic negotiation from Paris de Sud Saclay University in Paris. I finished my other Master’s Degree in International & European Law in Toulouse Capitole 1 University in France, and my “Licence” degree in Law and Political Science from the same university. I also completed a Bachelor’s Degree in French Literature at Birzeit University in Palestine.
Hobbies: I enjoy traveling around the world to learn about cultures, and spend quality time with people from different backgrounds.
Career aspirations: I would like to work in humanitarian International NGOs, particularly with organizations that help refugees around the world. As they are human beings, I believe that they have the right to live wherever they go with dignity.  As a speaker of Arabic, English and French, I am able to work in many different countries around the world.
Why Learning Life?  Due to COVID-19 restrictions on travels, I liked the idea of “traveling” virtually around the world by connecting with new people of different backgrounds and experiences via Learning Life’s live international dialogues. The dialogues helped me learn new things from different people across the globe.  What’s more, I learned more about how people of other countries face their political, economic, social issues, and how they are willing to find solutions in order to live in better situations.

GUSTAVO CARVAJAL VILLALOBOS

Year, major, and school: I am a second-year student (Class of 2021) in the Master’s of Public Policy Program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Hobbies: I like hiking, listening to music, jogging, dancing, video games and having nice conversations with friends and family.  Coming from Costa Rica, I deeply enjoy spending time in nature, sharing a nice warm cup of coffee with my family, and going out with my friends.

Career aspirations: I’m divided between my passion for supporting and shaping youth through local and national institutions, and my passion for improving vulnerable communities’ resilience as they face climate change. Clean water, food production and overall human health have been compromised and become commodities instead of human rights.  In the bigger picture, I’m all in for future generations.

Why Learning Life? To share knowledge and ideas, expand my understanding of other cultures and be part of a worldwide network. In my experience, families have been the driving force behind most individuals I have met around the world, either because of the support they provide or abuse they inflict.  Addressing social issues from a family perspective seems like a great opportunity, and it has been an enlightening, useful experience.

RACHEL FARZAN

Year, major, and school: I’m a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University studying Communications Arts and Computer Science. If all goes to plan, I’ll be graduating in 2025.

Hobbies: My favorite thing to do in my free time is definitely drawing. At other times, though, I like to embroider, watch cartoons, and play video games!  I also enjoy spending time with my friends by getting food, hanging out at the library, or going to after-school clubs with them.

Career aspirations: Since I’m majoring in two very different fields, I can see myself pursuing different careers.  I would definitely like to pursue something in the arts, possibly making comics, designing characters and environments for animation studios, or creating illustrations for books and magazines. But with the combination of my computer science degree, it would also be interesting to design websites or create video games.

Why Learning Life? I first heard of Learning Life when I got an email from my art advisor about an internship with the nonprofit.  I initially joined to simply help create a video for the Family Diplomacy Initiative, but I’ve actually gotten a lot more out of my experience here than I thought I would. Learning about this nonprofit and hearing from people around the world has been very eye-opening. Although I have the opportunity to talk to people around the world by being on any social media platform, Learning Life has provided a specific place for people to discuss really important matters that I’m not usually exposed to within my small online circle. Interning with Learning Life has made me a more educated and open-minded person, so I’m very grateful for this experience.

RUYA GOKHAN

Year, major, and school: I am a senior undergraduate student at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. My major is Political Science, and I minor in Business Administration and International Studies.

Hobbies: I have always been an animal lover.  I have been an enthusiastic equestrian since my elementary school years. This is more than a hobby for me because I have been a licensed athlete in the Turkish Equestrian Federation since 2013.  Additionally, I enjoy photography, pottery, gardening and modern dance.

Career aspirations: After completing my bachelor’s degree, I am planning to pursue my master’s degree in business or international relations. Then, I hope to get work experience that provides me with a broad set of skills in teamwork, operations, marketing and sales that can help me run a business enterprise, and develop as a professional and person.

Why Learning Life? I believe in high-quality education because education makes a nation either free and prosperous, or miserable and undeveloped. Learning Life’s mission is to spread learning not only for privileged people but also people from lower-income areas, where they have less access to education. It was very impressive for me to be a part of a nonprofit organization that focuses on education and democracy.  From my perspective, the only way to practice a good democracy and develop a country is to educate its citizens.  Learning Life’s work is in line with my philosophy.

ELEANOR GREENBAUM

Year, major, school: I am a sophomore studying at George Washington University in Washington, DC.  I am a double major in Political Science and International Affairs, concentrating in Conflict Resolution and International Environmental Policy.

Hobbies: I love to read, listen to music (especially Taylor Swift) and podcasts, go to the gym, and hang out with my friends. I also love learning about and discussing politics.

Career Aspirations: I would love to go into international peace-building in some aspect. After I graduate, I plan to get a master’s degree and go to law school. I plan on focusing on human rights and international environmental issues, potentially working with the State Department or the United Nations.

Why Learning Life? Learning Life has inspired me to look at diplomacy from a smaller, more family-oriented scale. This has put things into perspective, and shown me what is truly important when considering international political issues. The connections made from this organization are truly irreplaceable.

MICHAEL GRIMALDI

Year, major, and school: I am a Junior at the George Washington University in Washington DC, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Security Policy and a minor in History.
Hobbies: I really like board games and I like to discuss politics. I also like to go on walks throughout the city to see major landmarks.
Career aspirations: I would like to work for the US State Department or for the Department of Defense as an analyst.
Why Learning Life? I firmly believe that only by collective action can democracy be preserved, so Learning Life’s work to connect families worldwide to discuss how we are all impacted by global issues resonated with me. Through this model, I believe Learning Life has done and will continue to do a lot of good work by providing a medium for discussion for a wide variety of people and families.  Aside from my passion for the mission of Learning Life, I also felt that an internship would help me cultivate my skills and make me into a better person.

YUTONG JIANG

Year, major and school: I am a junior at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in the Middle East, and minors in Journalism and Hebrew & Arabic Language & Culture.

Hobbies: I enjoy being outdoors, and started rock climbing and sculling (rowing) in summer 2021. I am also a big fan of skiing and running. I ran more than 800 miles for the first time in 2020 and climbed four high peaks. Two goals of mine are to pursue mountaineering and backcountry skiing.

Career aspirations: I am interested in working as a journalist in the Middle East, or a freelance travel videographer and photographer.

Why Learning Life? Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative offers a great opportunity for young adults to learn first hand information from other young people around the world. Through this program, I learned about current news in different area of the world, how people with different ethnicities, religions and values share their perspectives, and where their views come from.  What’s more, I learned how the program is able to bring diverse people together and foster a sense of global citizenship and community.  Learning Life’s values and mission have encouraged me to think more broadly and inclusively about different viewpoints and ideas.

KAYLIE KETELTAS

Year, major, and school: I am a second-year student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst pursuing a dual degree in Spanish and Linguistics with a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language and a certificate in American English Linguistics.

Hobbies: I enjoy trail running and discovering new places to run and explore. When I’m not spending time with my friends or playing with my cats, you’ll find me watching football.

Career aspirations: I chose to pursue a Spanish major when applying to colleges because it was the school subject that I felt most confident and excited about learning. Upon coming to college, I quickly learned about the many options for fields of study that I could pair with my Spanish major. When I discovered the certificate for Teaching English as a Second Language, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. Though I’m still working out the details, I’d like to teach English to Spanish speakers, whether it be in the United States or abroad. 

Why Learning Life? I joined Learning Life not only to learn more about Family Diplomacy and to share my experiences with families worldwide but also to connect with other Spanish speakers and people who are learning Spanish. During my time with Learning Life, I have communicated with countless Spanish speakers from around the world through my outreach. In return, I have been able to improve my conversational skills in a real-world setting in my journey to become bilingual.

MADDIE MILLER

Year, major, and school: I am a sophomore at George Washington University studying International Affairs. For the Spring 2022 semester, I will be transferring to Georgetown University and majoring in Government.

Hobbies: I love to run and exercise!  When I am not busy studying, I like to spend time with friends and watch movies or cook together.

Career aspirations: My post-graduate plans are to either go to law school or to earn my Master’s Degree in Public Policy. My goal is to work for either the U.S. State Department in the Foreign Service or in the United Nations. I want to get involved in policy making, specifically peace negotiations.  I am fascinated by different cultures and want to travel the world while helping people through policy!

Why Learning Life? Learning Life stood out to me because of its focus on education beyond school walls. Before I can get involved in organizations such as the State Department or United Nations, I feel I need to understand the foundation of familial ties worldwide. There are many instances in which the needs of families or those impacted by policy do not align with the interests of the policymakers themselves. The family dialogues appealed to me the most because they open the door to hard conversation topics while allowing people with different backgrounds to voice their opinions.

JULIA PAOLA

Year, major and school: I am a senior at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, majoring in International Affairs with concentrations in International Politics and Europe & Eurasia, a second major in Political Science, and a minor in Italian Language & Literature.

Hobbies: In my free time, I love visiting my dogs in Annapolis and walking/fostering dogs here in DC!  I’ve recently gotten into gardening and love using homegrown herbs in my cooking.  I also enjoy traveling and exploring new places whenever I get the chance.

Career aspirations: I want to work for refugee assistance groups like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, International Rescue Committee, and the International Maritime Organization to help with reforming immigration policies.  Specifically, I would like to work with migrants and refugees in Italy in refugee camps to help them through the asylum process.

Why Learning Life? I decided to intern with Learning Life because I think the idea of connecting families of different cultures across the world is unique and educates people about many global issues. I have always felt that education is central to creating more peaceful and sympathetic societies. Learning Life allows for different views to be expressed and expands members’ range of knowledge.  It is great to see the growth of international understanding and appreciation for diversity!

MARIA PEREZ

Year, major and school: I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of California, Irvine studying Social Policy & Public Service with a focus on Education.

Hobbies: I enjoy listening to music, especially live music, as well as making jewelry, embroidering, reading, and drawing.

Career aspirations: I hope to work in the realm of education on solutions that benefit underserved communities. I am especially interested in addressing issues in and leading up to higher education.

Why Learning Life? I have always valued education highly and I appreciate Learning Life’s efforts to extend education past school walls, thus increasing its accessibility. I have also always enjoyed learning about different communities and cultures, and Learning Life’s international scope has allowed me the opportunity to do so.

VITTORIA VAN BLOMMESTEIN

Year, major, and school: I am a third year student in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Affairs as well as Peace Studies. In my International Affairs degree I am concentrating on International Politics.

Hobbies: I enjoy playing tennis with my friends, leisure walks, traveling, and reading.

Career aspirations: I aim to continue my education in either graduate school or law school, then I would love to work in international conflict resolution. I’ve come to understand the value and importance of mediation and feel I have a good grasp on exercising this skill.  I would greatly enjoy being able to apply political and psychological analysis to broker peaceful exchange between countries.

Why Learning Life? Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative really piqued my interests. I have always been a proponent of the spread of education, and being able to reach thousands of people abroad in fostering an environment where there’s an opportunity to learn about topics such as diplomacy and democracy fascinated me. The idea of equipping people with information to dialogue between countries with the aim to influence government  is one I believe in strongly myself, so I’m happy to be part of the process.

What Is Family Diplomacy?

 Family Diplomacy InitiativeOur world is becoming more complex and interdependent as more people, goods, services and interactions flow across national borders.  This changing global reality has triggered xenophobic, sometimes violent reactions that have been validated and amplified by political activists and opportunistic leaders.  Diplomacy is rightly upheld as an important response to the mounting tensions within and between some countries, but diplomacy should not be left strictly to professionals.  The internet and smart phones open exciting possibilities for citizens to be involved in diplomacy to help promote peace, prosperity and justice, but success and our global future depend in part on fresh approaches.   This is the fourth in a series of posts intended to advance family diplomacy as a new form of citizen diplomacy for a more caring world.  Read the first post here.   

This post, in the form of a Q&A, answers some basic questions about family diplomacy, and how to become a Family Diplomat, or a Family Diplomacy Ambassador.

Why family diplomacy?

Families are widely valued across the world, and deeply impacted by international affairs, from global trade, to immigration, to climate change.  Yet the voices of families are hardly heard in intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations, even as the voices of youth and women are rightly being amplified.  Allowing families to connect, share, learn, and speak publicly to their needs, concerns and aspirations in and to governments across the world is vital to nurturing a more caring world.  Learn more about why families should be involved in diplomacy here.

What is family diplomacy?

Family diplomacy means three things:

  1. Families talking and learning together across lines of country, class, race and religion.
  2. Families publicly voicing their own and other families’ needs, concerns and aspirations.
  3. Families participating in the decisions that affect their lives via local to global nonprofits, governments and businesses.

Currently, via our Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI), Learning Life is actively pursuing 1 and 2 above, and planning for 3.

To learn more about the idea of and reasons for family diplomacy, click here.

We Are Family Diplomats Poster
What is the Family Diplomacy Initiative?

Launched in 2016, the Family Diplomacy Initiative or FDI is the program through which Learning Life advances family diplomacy worldwide.  In 2017-2019, Learning Life completed two pilot projects — a community photo project and a food culture project — that engaged a small number of lower-income families in the USA, El Salvador, Senegal and Jordan.  Since summer 2019, we have been scaling up FDI to encourage thousands of people worldwide to share and learn about family life via our FDI Facebook Group.  In 2020, we completed a larger food culture project, and in 2021 we organized a series of six live international family dialogues focused on the question: “what do families worldwide need to be safe and healthy?

How can I become a Family Diplomat (FD)?

Family diplomacy will evolve as Learning Life develops FDI, but right now, here are some simple ways you can get involved as an FD:

  1. Join our Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI) on Facebook to connect, share and learn with a growing number of families across the globe.
  2. Respond to the “Eye on Families” questions posed on the FDI Facebook Group.
  3. Fill out your own “We Are Family Diplomats” Poster with a photo of your family plus your family’s completion of the sentence: “We are family diplomats because…”  See the above poster for an example from the Gowtham Family in India.  You can email us with your family photo, sentence completion, family name, city and country at email@learninglife.info.

Anyone in the world can become a FD free of charge.  However, FDs should:

  1. Be on Facebook, and willing to join our FDI Facebook Group.
  2. Have at least one family member — and much preferably more than one — who are committed to participating in FDI activities, including periodic live international dialogues via Zoom.
  3. Have a strong enough internet connection to participate in Zoom audio or video calls.
  4. Speak English at at least an intermediate level.
  5. Be at least 14 years old, and mature enough to participate meaningfully in FD activities.

Serving as one of Learning Life’s Family Diplomats takes about 3-5 hours per month on average.  The benefits include:

  1. Make new friends across the world.
  2. Develop a deeper understanding of the forces impacting families, and the perspectives of family members worldwide.
  3. Gain a resume-building experience (for those who want it)
  4. Get the chance to win recognition as one of Learning Life’s best Family Diplomats for those who participate most actively.

To apply to become a Family Diplomat, please (a) join the Family Diplomacy Initiative on Facebook, and (b) fill out this FD pre-dialogues survey.

How can I become a Family Diplomacy Ambassador (FDA)?

Family Diplomacy Ambassadors (FDAs) are motivated young people ages 14 to 30 anywhere in the world who volunteer as part of an international FDA team to help grow family diplomacy worldwide, and get mentoring and training in citizen diplomacy.

FDAs can live anywhere in the world, but must be/have:

  1. At least 14 years old
  2. A strong enough internet connection to allow for at least audio if not video participation in international FDA Team meetings.
  3. Active on Facebook, or willing to set up and use a Facebook account.
  4. Motivated to help grow our Family Diplomacy Initiative, and advocate for families.
  5. Able and willing to volunteer 4-5 hours/week for 4-5 months.
  6. Speak English at a strong intermediate to fluent level.

The benefits of becoming an FDA are:

  1. Be part of an international team sharing, learning and working together to help make the world more connected and caring.
  2. Get resume-building experience as an international citizen diplomat advocating for families.
  3. Receive an official Learning Life FDA Certificate if you satisfactorily complete service as an FDA.
  4. The best performing FDAs also have the chance to win special recognition for their achievement.

To apply to become an FDA, please (a) join the Family Diplomacy Initiative on Facebook, and (b) fill out this FDA screening survey. 

How does Learning Life define family?

Families come in all shapes and sizes, so we define families broadly as two or more people who love each other, or one or more people and one or more pets who love each other non-sexually (and preferably live with each other).   This includes same-sex and opposite-sex couples, unmarried couples, couples with or without children, single parents with one or more kids, single persons with one or more pets, siblings or cousins living together, grandparents living with grandchildren, and others.  The importance of family is love, not who loves.

Photo below: Family representatives from Venezuela and the USA share their answers in the FDI Facebook Group in answer to the question “what does breakfast look like in your family?” as part of Learning Life’s 2020 food culture project.  

FDI world food culture project

Sixth 2021 International Family Dialogue Focuses on Education & Leisure

On Sunday, November 14, 40 people from 17 countries worldwide — Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, USA, Nigeria, Burundi, Uganda, Tunisia, Jordan, Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia — engaged in a rich, wide-ranging discussion of games, religion, cell phones and social media’s impacts on family health.

This was the last in a series of six dialogues that started in May this year focused on the overarching question: what do families worldwide need to be safe and healthy?  The dialogues were part of the Family Diplomacy Initiative, Learning Life’s flagship program devoted to connecting families across borders to share and learn together. The November 14 dialogue started with a brief video about the dialogues, then some context from Learning Life’s founder, Paul Lachelier.  To view the full video-recorded dialogue, click here.

All six family dialogues held from May to November this year were free, and held, in English, on Sundays, 12:00-1:30pm EST (New York time) via Zoom. Each dialogue had a different date and topic as follows:

June 27: Global Trends in Family Life: How are families changing worldwide, and how does this impact family health and security?  Topics might include global patterns and trends in family demographics, parenting, childhood, family life, aspirations and viewpoints, etc.

July 25: Health Care Systems: How do health care systems shape family health and security?  What exists and what’s lacking in local-to-global health care institutions? What are some of the major global health trends, threats, and some of the most promising large-scale solutions?

August 15: Work & Economics: How do economic forces affect family health and security?  Topics might include work and unemployment, workplace safety, automation, income and wealth inequality, economic migration and remittances, work-life balance, etc.

September 12: The Environment: How do natural and man-made environmental conditions, local to global, impact family health and security?  Topics might include home and neighborhood crime and safety, community life, green space, housing and segregation, transportation, pollution, climate change, etc.

October 10: Politics: How do local to global politics influence family health and security?  Topics might include government service provision, leadership, civil society, governmental power inequalities between and within nations, immigration and refugee policy, war, human rights, rule of law, corruption, legal discrimination, etc.

November 14: Education & Leisure: How do education and leisure time activities influence family health and security? Topics might include formal and informal education, leisure patterns and trends, literacy, early childhood education, gender and class inequalities, etc.

Learning Life will be back in 2022 with more international dialogues.  In the meantime, check out our Youtube Channel for all six 2021 dialogue videos, plus other videos.  To participate in future family diplomacy dialogues, please complete this Family Diplomat application survey.

New Report: Growth, Milestones, Awards & More!

Learning Life is pleased to release the following highlights from a new report, “Democracy & Diplomacy for a More Caring World.” The report offers a glimpse into Learning Life’s growth and impact, significant milestones, and some of the many people helping and benefiting from our work.