What Happened in 2021, and What’s Coming in 2022

The Covid Pandemic continued shutting down or slowing activity in 2021, but it neither shut down nor slowed Learning Life.  Indeed, from more than quintupling membership in our Family Diplomacy Initiative on Facebook, to completing more live international family dialogues than ever, to launching Democracy Dinner panel discussions, and establishing Learning Life as an independent nonprofit with a new Board of Directors and Board of Advisors, 2021 was another very active year for Learning Life.  This annual report lays out what we accomplished in 2021 via each of our three programs — the Family Diplomacy Initiative, International Mentoring Program, and Democracy Dinners — as well as organizationally, and what’s planned in 2022.  As Executive Director, I conclude with thanks to a lot of volunteers, interns and donors who were instrumental in making 2021 a year of continued growth and success.  Throughout this report, I also share some pictures of our people and activities.

Family Diplomacy Initiative

In our increasingly interconnected yet divided world, Learning Life’s flagship program, the Family Diplomacy Initiative or FDI, connects families online worldwide across lines of country, class, race and religion to share and learn together with an eye long-term to empowering families to participate in decision-making for a more caring world.  After completing two pilot international learning projects with lower-income families in the USA, El Salvador, Senegal and Jordan in 2017-2019, and a food culture project in 2020, that collectively yielded modest to significant improvements in interest and knowledge of international relations, comfort with difference, warmth toward foreign populations, and more (see Project 1 results, Project 2 results, and Project 3 results for details), in 2021 Learning Life carried out a fourth dialogue project focused on the question: what do families worldwide need to be safe and healthy?  With that question in mind, Learning Life carried out six live international dialogues via Zoom from June to November that each examined different forces shaping family health and safety:

June 27: World Family Trends: This first dialogue discussed how families worldwide are shrinking in size, becoming more diverse in form, how raising children is becoming more expensive, how marriage too often entails violence against women and stigma against divorced women, the disruptive impact on families of the international refugee crisis, and more.

July 25: Health Care: This second dialogue considered the variety of issues affecting family health, from Covid to mosquitoes to diabetes to water scarcity, and the levels — individual, family, community, nation and worldwide — at which health care can and should be improved; how the Covid pandemic highlighted systemic health care failures, corruption and inequality; and how social media not only helped families and friends to communicate during lockdowns, but also challenged dominant media narratives often skewed by powerful political and economic interests.

August 15: Work & Economics: The third dialogue explored a wide range of economic issues affecting family health, including how most people around the world do not have much if any choice in the work they do; how unemployment spikes during Covid have led to what have been called “suicides of despair” in Bangladesh and elsewhere; how women have had to take on more work during the pandemic, including wage and domestic caring; how in Italy and other nations, women, often employed in more casual, part-time and temporary jobs, have been more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic, aggravating gender inequalities; how rising incomes in China have come with more work hours; how land and water privatization in Mexico make family life more insecure; how human trafficking and bonded labor undermine families (this part of the discussion included a dialogue participant who was trafficked from Mexico into the USA); how in Trinidad & Tobago some people are abducted without explanation to be turned into slaves, or for their organs to be “harvested” for international sale; how the oversupply of educated people and the undersupply of jobs in some countries, like Turkey, burdens families; and how a global minimum wage would make it harder for companies to exploit workers in poorer nations with weaker labor laws.

September 12: Environment: In the fourth dialogue, participants, among other things, raised that while climate change is destroying families’ homes and livelihoods, in some places, like Alabama, USA, discussion of hurricanes’ and tornados’ links to climate change is conspicuously absent; that smoke from wildfires in California are aggravating family members’ lung and heart conditions and restricting people’s ability to be outside; that desertification, air and water pollution are worsening, interrelated problems undermining family health in Saudi Arabia; that river dams some countries build restrict water supply in other countries using the same rivers, like Israel’s dams on the Jordan River, which reduce water supply in Jordan; in Bangladesh that increasing industry and population are increasing water pollution, and accordingly disease and food poisoning; and more.

October 10: Politics: The fifth dialogue weighed a variety of political issues impacting families, including war, refugee crises, religious discrimination, corruption, authoritarian rule, oppression of LGBTQ people, restrictive adoption laws, health insurance coverage for families, and else.  We were grateful to have an English teacher from Venezuela who fled her country to work in Ecuador and talked about how her family has scattered to many countries due to the political conflict and economic downturn in Venezuela.  Another participant from Trinidad & Tobago spoke of how refugees from Venezuela have impacted life in her country, including more Spanish language services to accommodate more Spanish speakers.  A former Malawi refugee camp worker explained the difficulties of life in refugee camps, including abuse at the hands of corrupt, profit-seeking locals.  An Afghan immigrant and her daughter living in Virginia, USA spoke about the impact of the US exit from Afghanistan on Afghan families, including the overmedication of stressed refugees and difficulties of finding work in a foreign country.

November 14: Education & Leisure: The sixth and final dialogue explored the influence of games, religion, cell phones and social media on family health.  In China, the highly popular game, Mahjong, brings families together, helps players learn Chinese culture, and exercises older minds, but also affects health from prolonged sitting and in some cases leads mahjong lovers to neglect their children.  One participant from Pakistan observed that the internet and social media have weakened family ties but strengthened ties to others, even strangers worldwide, noting these dialogues as an example.  Participants from Kenya, China and Romania spoke of how the growing numbers of people getting their education abroad distances family members from each other.  A participant from Jordan living in Egypt spoke of how religion in the Middle East can restrict social relations, making it difficult to date and befriend people of other religions, and increasing tensions within families between older, more conservative members and more liberal youth.

Each dialogue was fully video-recorded.  You can watch all six dialogues on Learning Life’s Youtube Channel.

The dialogues engaged over 100 participants — younger and older children, parents and grandparents — in 38 countries across the globe, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Romania, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, Ukraine, USA, and Venezuela.  An evaluation of the impact of the 2021 live international dialogues on participants is coming soon.

In 2022, FDI will be integrated with our Mentoring Program, as described below.

International Mentoring Program

Learning Life’s International Mentoring Program started in 2018 as a supplement to our Family Diplomacy Initiative.  The Program helped provide some of the youth from lower-income families engaged in our FDI family dialogues in the USA, El Salvador and Senegal more connection to the wider world by matching them with mentors who read and talked with them about topics of interest to the youth — like dance, music and food — from an international perspective.  Our mentors in Washington DC, where Learning Life is based, still meet in-person or online with their mentees, to experience foreign foods, cultural festivals, museums, and other international goods, events and places.

In 2021, the Mentoring Program continued as described above, though we did not take on new mentors as we work to integrate the Program with FDI over the course of 2021 and 2022.  As part of that integration, Learning Life recruited over 30 Family Diplomacy Ambassadors or FDAs from across the world, from Mexico, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and the USA, to Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya and Tunisia, to Italy, Germany and Poland, to Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.  Starting in January 2021, FDAs met every 1-2 weeks via Zoom in East and West Teams, depending on their time zone, to learn from each other through discussion of questions of interest, from “Who is the best cook in your family, and what food do they prepare well?” to “What do you think is the most serious issue facing the world?”  Significantly, FDAs also helped grow FDI on Facebook from 1,650+ members worldwide on January 1, to over 10,000 by December 31, by individually inviting thousands of people in other international groups on Facebook.

In 2022, Learning Life mentors will continue to meet monthly to discuss their mentoring with youth from lower-income families in Washington DC.  As in 2021, we will not recruit new mentors to replace mentors who step down from their mentoring, but will instead invite mentees 14 years and older to participate in an exciting, new, free, international training program for Family Diplomats (FDs), part of FDI (FDAs from 2021 will be invited to become FDs in 2022).  FDs are one or more motivated members of any family, and any age, worldwide who have good enough English and internet connection to participate in weekly Zoom meetings through which they will get mentoring and training in citizen diplomacy, family studies, and communications to become more effective advocates for families.  In 2022, FDs will get training in storytelling and the opportunity to practice their storytelling skills about families with various audiences.  In the longer term, the goal is to create a growing worldwide community of FDs who can advocate effectively for the needs, concerns and aspirations of families via partner nonprofits, businesses and governments with which Learning Life and allied family diplomacy training organizations connect them.

Democracy Dinners & Learning Community

Launched in June 2019, Learning Life’s Democracy Dinners bring together every two months academics, elected officials, and other professionals working on various democracy-related issues to talk about the challenges and possibilities facing democracy in the USA and abroad.  The Dinners are Learning Life’s first step in a longer-term  effort to build a democracy learning community (DLC) in the metro DC area (a DMV DLC) that can broaden and deepen democratic participation in the region, foster more collaboration, and serve as a model for building DLCs in other cities in the USA and abroad.  The Dinners are purposefully small in size, with 8-20 participants per Dinner, to encourage deeper conversation and connections as well as to facilitate building a supportive network for the DMV DLC.

In 2021, Learning Life held a total of twelve Dinners via Zoom — two Dinners every other month — engaging over 100 different individuals, including returning and new participants, most in metro DC.  We also initiated a new format for half the Dinners: a panel of speakers then discussion on a specific democracy topic as an additional offering to complement the introductions-then-discussion format we began the Dinners with in 2019.  The first panel in July 2021 discussed how to empower marginalized communities.  The second panel in September considered the evolving condition and role of news media in American democracy.  The third panel in November explored the challenges of and ways to mitigate political polarization in the USA.

In feedback surveys, Democracy Dinner participants often express that they like the depth and civility of the conversation, the diversity of participants, and the ability to meet new people who likewise care about democracy.  Participants give the Dinners consistently high marks, an average score of 8.4 out of 10 on a 10-point rating scale. With the spread of Covid to the USA in 2020, the Dinners moved online to Zoom, and will stay on Zoom post-Covid given the higher convenience and lower cost for everyone involved.

In 2022, the Dinners will continue, but Learning Life is also preparing the next step in the development of the DMV DLC: a series of monthly planning meetings with area democracy stakeholders to first envision what a DLC in metro DC might look like, then to write an action plan so that we can collectively hit the ground running in 2023 with one or more new DLC events, besides the existing Dinners.  In August 2021, Learning Life Senior Democracy Strategist Mike Morrow and I co-wrote an article making the case for DLCs titled “America Needs Democracy Learning Communities.”  The article was published online at The Fulcrum, and picked up by other online news media including Gulf Today, The Marietta Daily Journal, Salem News, and The Post BulletinFor more about the DMV DLC, click here, and to offer your opinions and suggestions, take this DLC survey.  If you live in metro DC and want to take part in the 2022 DLC planning meetings, please take the same survey and indicate your interest in participating.

Other Organizational Activities

From Learning Life’s founding in August 2012 to December 2020, our organization had advisors but no formal Board of Directors because we were a fiscally sponsored program of the national charity, United Charitable, and as such, could not have a board of our own.  In the first half of 2020, after United Charitable decided to sharply increase its service fees for fiscally sponsored programs, Learning Life severed its ties with the charity.  We then launched a planning group which met in the latter half of 2020 to, among other things, plan Learning Life’s future, and help recruit a Board of Directors and Board of Advisors for Learning Life.

On January 25, 2021, Learning Life held the first meeting of its new Board of Directors (BOD), composed of five leaders — Dandan Chen, Khadija Hashemi, Suzanne Lachelier, Nancy Overholt, and Linda Stuart — based in metro Washington DC, Illinois and Minnesota, with substantial experience in nonprofit management, leadership, evaluation, and accounting.  On February 18 and 21, the new Board of Advisors (BOA) — composed of 22 individuals, mostly in the USA, but also Germany, Romania and Thailand, with wide-ranging professional experience in leadership, nonprofit management, communications, education and international affairs — held its first two meetings (two meetings to accommodate time zone differences).  The BOD met six times in 2021, and the BOA three times as a general body, with smaller meetings for specialized advising on fundraising, evaluation and communications.

In March 2021, we submitted Learning Life’s application to become an independent, federally registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  On July 13, the IRS issued its “letter of determination” formally establishing Learning Life as an independent nonprofit!  In subsequent months, we prepared our first fundraiser as an independent nonprofit, and held the event live online via Zoom (due to Covid) on October 24 with over 70 participants, issuing a colorful report, and raising more than $13,500 in individual donations by the end of the year.

In 2022, we will continue growing Learning Life’s funding base, including donors, sponsors and grants.  We hope to have our first in-person fundraiser in the fall, provided the Covid pandemic becomes endemic and no other crises arise.

Five Ways You Can Help

As we enter 2022, here are five ways you can get involved and help Learning Life grow:

1) Stay tuned to Learning Life news by following our FacebookLinkedin, or Twitter pages, and sign up for our monthly email dispatches.

2) Engage in our Family Diplomacy Initiative: If you are on Facebook, join FDI, and invite your friends and family to the group who may be interested as we continue to grow the Initiative in 2022.  In addition, if you want to learn about citizen diplomacy and families worldwide, exercise your storytelling skills, and interact live with people in many nations, apply to become a Family Diplomat.

3) Engage in our Democracy Learning Community: If you live in metro Washington DC, work and/or volunteer on/for democracy-related issues, and wish to get email invitations to our bi-monthly Democracy Dinners, send your resume to email@learninglife.info.  If you live in metro DC and would like to offer your opinions and suggestions about the DMV DLC, and/or receive invitations to the 2022 DLC monthly planning meetings, please fill out the DMV DLC Survey.

4) Become a Learning Life donor: You can donate here to support our work overall.  To support FDI, join 1,000 Strong for Family Diplomacy.  To support our democracy work, join 1,000 Strong for the DMV DLC.

5) Shop through iGive.com, and help fund Learning Life free. Shop more than 1,400 stores (Apple, Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, The Gap, KMart, Nordstrom, Sephora, Staples, Starbucks, Target, T-Mobile, Walgreens, and many more) through iGive, and if you make Learning Life your preferred charity, a percentage of your purchase will be donated to Learning Life at no cost to you.

Acknowledgements

Last but most importantly, we would like to thank the many volunteers, interns and donors who were essential to our growth and success in 2021, including:

Our interns: Tenille Archie, Amal Burbar, Matthew Capuano-Rizzo, Jasmine Lozano Castillo, Ellen Degerman, Emely Evangelista, Rachel Farzan, Eleanor Greenbaum, Ruya Gokhan, Daisy Gonzalez, Michael Grimaldi, Yutong Jiang, Kaylie Keteltas, Elsa Knapp, Jasmine Lozano, Maria Lujan, Madeline Miller, Elizabeth Morgan, Arisa Oshiro, Estrella Pallis-Bonadurer, Julia Paola, Maria Perez, Jonathan Nunez Salgado, Courtney Sipes, Nicole Tuck, Vittoria van Blommestein, Gustavo Carvajal Villalobos, and Rossella Vulcano. 

Our mentors: Annika Betancourt, Chris Comer, Cassie Dick, Aileene Duyan, Josie Fazzino, Marissa Hall, Marley Henschen, Paul Lachelier, Suzanne Lachelier, Sherry Liu, Brenda Lopez, Elle Lu, Cullan Riser, Alexis Vega, Janae Washington, and Kit Young.

Our Family Diplomacy Ambassadors: Maha Aboucha, Chirunim Agi-Otto, Farah Ali, Tenille Archie, Ayesha Arshad, Amal Burbar, Gustavo Carvajal Villalobos, Ellen Degerman, Daisy Gonzalez, Eleanor Greenbaum, Michael Grimaldi, Kaylie Keteltas, Haydee Lopez, Sri Hayanti Manullang, Seba Maranata, Muluh Rita Megha, Nusrat Jahan Nipa, Sami Noman, Ameer Nuhad, Jonathan Nunez, Arisa Oshiro, Estrella Pallis-Bonadurer, Maria Perez, Brenda Rodriguez, Jenya Saini, Zaidy Sumandal, Nishwa Tasavvar, Chloe Terani, Aishwarya Verma, and Rossella Vulcano.

Our Board of Directors: Dandan Chen, Khadija Hashemi, Suzanne Lachelier, Nancy Overholt and Linda Stuart.  

Our Board of Advisors: Golnar Abedin, Heidi Bloom, Bert Brandenburg, David Caprara, Stefan Cibian, Matt Clausen, Michael Deal, Oliver Hugo, Darrell Irwin, Jaya Kasaraneni, Liudmila Mikhailova, Yadira Pinilla, Andreas Prauhart, Kate Raftery, Emily Samose, John Schorr, Sharon Sobel, Bahira Trask, Jim Williams, Ben Yavitz, and Stacey Zlotnick. 

Our donors: Golnar Abedin, Marcia Anglarill, Neme & Abire Bidjada, Bert Brandenburg, Nick Burton, Gustavo Carvajal, Dawn Clarke, Matt Clausen, Nichola Dyer, Gretchen Ehle, Sandy Feinland, Craig Gusmann, Wendy Farzan, Khadija Hashemi, Oliver Hugo, Darrell Irwin, Jean Kelly, Ira Kemp, Jaya Kasaraneni, Kaylie Keteltas, Joe & Theresa Krettek, Eric Kurlander, The Lachelier Family, Carl and Renee Landegger Family Charitable Trust, Becky & Chris Lawton Flatters, Benece Leavitt, David Meskill, Liudmila Mikhailova, Thomas F. Miller, Sherry Mueller, Mike Morrow, John & Diana Negroponte, Arisa Oshiro, Nancy Overholt, Vera Oye Yaa-Anna, Julia & Lesli Paola, Kelly Pemberton, Maria Perez, Tony Perez, Michelle Pierce, Yadira Pinilla, Tom Pollak, Nicolas Prevelakis, Christopher Raleigh, Kate Raftery, Emily Samose, John Schorr, William Schneider, Rashod Sibert, Linda Stuart, Christian Thorne, Joe Toles, Bahira Trask, Debbie Trent, Carmen & John Vaughan, Jim Williams, Ben Yavitz, and Stacey Zlotnick.   

My apologies if I missed anyone, and if I did, please let us know their name(s) at paul@learninglife.info so that I may acknowledge them here!

Thank you all for your support!  Here’s to a healthier, more caring and connected New Year 2022!

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life

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.