A Pilot Virtual Exchange Program

Whenever my supervisor and I would casually talk about the “NGCN program”, she would tell me that I was meant to be among the team who implements it. In fact, I was planning to do a summer internship before a change of plans. Little did I know at the time that another change of plans was also taking place at World Learning where the launch of their new pilot program has been stalled. Anyhow, the stars were aligned and “NGCN” would be the acronym which would define my IEDP internship.

NGCN stands for NextGen Coders Network. It is a virtual exchange program, funded by the Aspen Institute, supported by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by World Learning and its local partners. The idea is to bring together 90 participants from the United States, Iraq and Palestine and have them combine their efforts in a hackathon format to design, through coding, solutions to global challenges.

The program is part of a larger initiative: The Stevens Initiative. It is named after the late American Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the attack on the US Special Mission to Benghazi, Libya in 2012. Through programs such as NGCN, the initiative aims to build peace and understanding between youths in the United States and the MENA region. The focus of the initiative is to enhance collaborative learning through international virtual exchange.

I could relate to the objectives of the program which gave purpose to the work I was doing. One of my very first tasks was to contribute to developing curriculum for the intercultural communication module of the course. For a while, I enjoyed revisiting the teacher’s task of creating lesson plans. I learned a lot in the process reading about the different theories on the topic and their development over time. However, the biggest learning moment was when I shared my work with my colleagues. I received thorough feedback from 5 technical experts who pinpointed strengths and areas of improvement in my work.

As we got closer to the program launch, I was juggling between a variety of tasks: Writing a number of reports, creating and editing videos for the course and managing an intercultural team of program facilitators from the US and the MENA region. Being a pilot program targeting a volatile region in the world, the NextGen Coders Program had its ups and downs. I took part in all meetings we had internally, with our funders and partners and I believe that being at the forefront of the implementation of such a program was a unique and fulfilling experience both at professional and personal levels.

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