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Team up for KL-YES

October 22, 2012

Brittany Haga and Sara Shoneberg have already begun to prove that 2 heads are better than 1 in the IRIS office. Their new duties as KL-YES assistants include working with students and families to insure an enjoyable and successful year in the United States, making home visits, promoting IRIS’ mission, as well as finding host families and arranging events. With their cultured backgrounds and passion for exchange programs, we are looking forward to everything they have to bring to IRIS!

Tell us a little about your background and how you became involved with international programs. 

B: I was born and raised in central Nebraska and graduated from American University in May 2012 with a degree in International Studies, with a focus on international development in Africa. I am interested in global health, environmental sustainability, political violence and refugee issues. My first experience abroad was on a short trip to Kenya, during which my classmates and I studied and observed how political violence led to a population growth in Kibera- a slum outside Nairobi. During my time at American University I traveled to Kenya, Mozambique and studied abroad in South Africa.

S: I am from Des Moines, Iowa and graduated from Drake University in 2009 with degrees in Politics and International Relations. After graduation I taught English in Chengde, China for a year. Upon returning to the United States, I spent a year taking part in AmeriCorps working with the Department of Human Rights in the Office of Latino Affairs. Here I ran the Iowa Youth Congress and sat in on the Latino Commission.

What has been your most enriching travel experience either personally or professionally?

B: Being in Kenya certainly had the most immediate impact on me.  Most of my time was spent in the slum of Kibera. Having that be my first international travel experience made it particularly impactful on me because I had the opportunity to see first-hand what I was learning about in school and most people only see on TV.

However, the time I spent studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa had a major impact on my life because I was able to live there for 6 months and become quite immersed in what was going on in the country.  The combination of taking classes about South African history and politics with South African men and women, interning for an organization that dealt with political and human rights issues in the country and living with South Africans made me feel particularly connected to the country.

S: After I graduated high school I took part in the Global Youth Institute based out of Central Academy in Des Moines. I spent 3 weeks in Australia meeting other students from all over the world and learned about the issues that face other nations. From here I changed my major from undecided to Politics and International Relations and have wanted to do nothing but travel the world.

From my many travel experiences, my favorite would have to be when I traveled around China by myself for 2 weeks. I learned to talk with people in a language I was not fluent in and was able to function without any help. I made new friends in every city and adapted to train life in China (which is very different from the US). I learned from this experience how to get by and make the most of a situation.

How many countries/continents have you visited?

B: My travel experience has been limited to the continent of Africa, where I have been to Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa.  I really look forward to traveling more as soon as possible.

S: I have traveled to North America, South America, Australia, Asia, and Europe for a total of eighteen countries.

What brought you to IRIS?

A majority of IRIS’ KL-YES students who Sara and Brittany will be working with this year.

B: I was lucky enough to stumble upon the posting for this job online.  My interest was piqued because working with the organization would allow me the opportunity to help exchange students have a great experience during their time in the United States, which is a powerful tool for bettering the public diplomacy of the United States.

S: Since teaching in China I had decided that I really wanted to work with foreign exchange students here in the United States.  When I saw the posting for this position online I knew it was exactly the job I had been looking for.

What is an international issue that is particularly important to you?

B: I’m particularly interested in global health.  Trying to address international issues can actually be very bleak because of all the components that are involved.  Countries sometimes think it isn’t feasible or in their interests to intervene.  The beauty of global health is that fairly often very simple solutions can make monumental differences in the life of a person or a community.

S: There are a lot of international issues that I find important, but at a basic level I find making sure everyone around the world can have tolerance and understanding for one another is the most important.  If this can be accomplished the bigger issues will be easier to resolve.  To make this happen, programs like KL-YES will help.

Why do you feel it is important to “connect Iowans to communities worldwide,” as IRIS’ mission states?

B: Finding a connection between yourself and someone who was born halfway around the world from you is becoming more important because we live in an increasingly interconnected world.  The choices we make can really impact someone else (as can their choices affect us), so it is important to really care about the well-being of others.  Too often we look at another person and only see the few ways in which we are different, instead of the many ways in which we are the same.  This reality is becoming clearer as people around the world become more interdependent.

S: Coming from a very diverse high school I was shaped by all the different types of people I was friends with and came in contact with.  I now feel like a better person with a better understanding for how other people think and live.

Many believe Iowans are not diverse and mostly just white Americans, but it is more than that.  By bringing people from around the world to Iowa and having them connect to people will not only help those students who come here, but also help those who meet them.

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