Youth Leadership Programs

Justin, of Connecticut, plants mangroves with Indonesian students.

Participant Story

Lasting Friendships in the Middle East

Nancy Bartosz Nancy Bartosz In the spirit of hospitality, Nancy Bartosz opened her home to Ali, a 2010 Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange Program (IYLEP) adult participant.

"As a person who loves to travel, often solo, I have been blessed too many times to count by the kindness of strangers," says Nancy on her willingness to host. "At first, my friends and family thought I was crazy to host a male stranger in my home, but the moment they met him and saw how enthusiastic he was to learn about Chicago, they could see why."

Nancy's guest Ali traveled from Iraq. In their spare time the new friends discovered her beloved city-- exploring Chicago neighborhoods and visiting festivals. Nancy admits "his excitement made otherwise ordinary things seem really fun and increased my own appreciation for my local comforts."

Nancy's act of citizen diplomacy showed her new Iraqi friend that his many views about America came from stereotypes they have seen on television.

"We all fall victim to bias in the media and the influence of movies," says Nancy. "I want to meet people from around the world to have personal experiences that discredit those stereotypes. I feel the only way to tackle stereotypes is to do so head on. So we spent a lot of time sharing ideas about both our countries and I also introduce them to friends who ran non-profit organizations for at-risk youth."

For Nancy, it makes sense to invest in programs such as the IYLEP. When the 2010 IYLEP came to term and Ali returned home with his group, Nancy made plans to visit Iraq and capitalize on the program to promote citizen diplomacy.

"I thought I would check to see if there is any way to advance the goals of the program or connect with the Iraqi organizing team while I am there," says Nancy. "The diversity of the U.S. is a phenomenon I have yet to see anywhere else and visiting our country gives an inside snapshot of the world. People should feel comfortable knowing that they are welcome here."

Upon her return from her one-year travel around the world, Nancy is determined to host more visiting scholars.