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San Diego Students Can Become Digital Pen Pals With Iraqi Youth

On a flyer for the Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program, two students engag...

Photo by Tarryn Mento / KPBS

Above: On a flyer for the Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program, two students engage in a virtual fist bump while communicating via an online video conferencing service.

Programs organized in part by the San Diego Diplomacy Council connect American students with youth in the Middle East.

San Diego youth will have an opportunity this summer to virtually connect with foreign students who, at one time, were temporarily barred from entering the U.S. Through World Learning's Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program, students in this country will use online tools, including video chats and webinars, to communicate with their counterparts in Iraq.

The Middle Eastern country appeared on President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban but was removed in a later version after a federal court suspended the initial order.

How To Apply:

Students between 15 and 18 years old may submit an application online by March 15. Semifinalists will be interviewed by staff and finalists will be notified in April.

Fabienne Perlov with the nonprofit San Diego Diplomacy Council, one of the organizing agencies in the U.S., said the program aims to build cultural understanding between the countries.

"It's particularly important in the case of Iraq where there has been a history of conflict and mistrust," said Perlov, the organization's executive director. "So we are working on the next generation of leaders who can build that dialogue and collaboration with the United States in different areas."

The selected 75 American and 150 Iraqi students will work together in groups to address global issues, she added.

"It can be challenges and issues in their own communities around environment, innovation and entrepreneurship, human rights, conflict resolution, governance and transparency — There are so many challenges that both communities in Iraq and in United States are facing," Perlov said.

She said the Diplomacy Council is one of 17 organizations in the U.S. that are helping to recruit applicants. So far, two students in San Diego have applied.

World Learning, the national organization behind the three-month program, launched a pilot version last year and is expanding the program this summer. In a video posted to the group's Facebook page, organizers said by the end of the program, participants will have developed a project that addresses issues in their own communities and work to implement it.

A separate initiative by the San Diego Diplomacy Council this summer will bring 14 Iraqi students to San Diego. The group is seeking Arabic-speaking hosts to house them for the two-week summer session.

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