From Where I Stand part I | The Global UGRAD Photojournalism Project

One of our favorite sayings is “Once a UGRAD, always a UGRAD”. Even when the U.S. portion of the Global UGRAD experience is over, alumni are always a part of this big and talented family of impact. The lessons learned and knowledge gained during the exchange live on as alumni share their stories and dedicate efforts to shine brightly in their home communities.

Every year we check in with recent program alumni to hear how their legacies are making an impact. We’ll highlight these stories in this month and next month’s “From Where I Stand”. Join us in applauding these alumni and finding inspiration for how we can similarly share our talents and experiences with those in our communities.

Erisa Murati, Albania, Kansas State University, 2016-2017

When you come back from an exchange program like Global UGRAD, the first thing you feel is how much you have changed, with a new self standing happily by your side as you progress and grow. While being on an emotional roller coaster, many changes happened in my life and new chapters have already started. I finished my undergraduate studies in Computer Engineering at Polytechnic University of Tirana. Currently I am working as a Software Developer at an IT company and soon I will start my graduate studies. At the same time I have been active with the US Embassy Youth Council in Tirana, as part of the Civic Engagement department, engaging in different activities to serve young citizens and represent their views, aspirations, and perspectives. More is yet to come and as everything happens for a reason, all that’s left to do is love every moment and live my life as it comes, colorful, dreamy and unexpected.

Florjan Muhaj, Albania, University of Wyoming, 2016-2017

After the completion of the Global UGRAD Program, I finished my undergraduate studies in Political Science at the University of Tirana. This past year has been so unreal for me, amazing, unforgettable, full of memories, opportunities and of course challenges. Currently, I am a Board Member of the U.S Embassy Youth Council Albania. We address youth problems, take initiatives on different issues by raising awareness among Albanian youth and what’s the most important, and aim to strengthen the sense of active citizenship through leadership and civic engagement activities. Talking about school, I recently received a scholarship to do my Master’s degree starting from September 2017, at the University of Salzburg, Austria through the Erasmus Programme sponsored by the European Commission; majoring in Political Science, Integration and Governance with minors in Comparative Government and European Integration. I am so excited about starting a new chapter in my life, which will be decisive for my future career. This is where I stand – school, civic engagement, volunteering and forever grateful to Global UGRAD which certainly opened new doors in my life.

Alex Vasquez, Costa Rica, University of Arkansas, 2016-2017

My world perspective has changed immensely since I came back from my Global UGRAD experience. I am now working remotely for a company based in San Francisco. But here’s the really awesome detail about it: I learned to combine my human rights background with the company’s objectives. I have been given an opportunity to lead the Diversity and Inclusion committee in Costa Rica. I love it here.

Doaa Mohaisen, Palestinian Territories, Carroll College, 2016-2017

When I returned in December 2016, I was offered a part-time job as the social media and fund-development coordinator for We Are Not Numbers, a storytelling project for Palestinian youth all over the world. We Are Not Numbers gives voices to the voiceless and faces to the faceless to stand against the stereotypical narrative about the Gaza Strip and Palestinian refugees. I’m proud I had the chance to be part of the team as a writer and also as an employee. Also, I graduated in June, 2017 with a BA in English Language and Literature from the Islamic University of Gaza. Since the beginning of the year, I volunteered at Tamer Institute for Community Learning and then worked there as a project coordinator for a project called “Children and Cinema”. I  worked with eight libraries scattered around the strip and developed a method to help children learn about cinema and cinematic effects and how to critique a movie. Finally, I was offered a scholarship by HBKU College in Qatar to pursue an MA in Translation Studies. I’m in Qatar right now!

Mehrojiddin Muhiddinov, Tajikistan, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, 2016-2017

Greetings from Tajikistan. I have been working with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program in Dushanbe this summer with the American Councils for International Education as a local coordinator. It was my honor to help American students who came to Tajikistan and learned Persian. This is my last day that I’m working on this project and I’m getting ready to go back to university. I’ll be interning for the FLEX Program these next six months in their translation section and legal work. Love and solidarity from Tajikistan.

May Myat Noe, Burma, Minnesota State University, Mankato, 2016-2017

I started classes at my university the day after I returned from the U.S. to continue to pursue my Civil Engineering Degree. I am currently a fourth year undergraduate student in Technological University, Sagaing and it takes six years to be an engineer graduate in Myanmar. In addition to studying, I volunteer in my friend’s teaching center to teach English to secondary school students and to share my knowledge and Global UGRAD experiences with my community. I am also a member of my University Literature Club and I am now writing articles for the club’s journal. Of course, I will never forget the awesome experiences and friends that I gained from Global UGRAD, and as all of us will say, “ Once a UGRAD, always a UGRAD”.

David Ngatia, Kenya, Saginaw Valley State University, 2015-2016

After my University graduation, I am now working at BAJ TRADING LTD as their Digital Marketing and Social Media Lead Consultant. This company is an importer of varieties of confectioneries from Chicago and European countries. Working with this company has been a blessing since I am always connected to global business partners from where we import our products. It is while on their market survey to Kenya that the U.S.-based company directors visited our company and they got interested in my work, requesting that I visit their office to implement the Digital solutions on a fully paid trip this coming fall. I thank Global UGRAD for opportunity.

Mitrashi Das, India, Chatham University, 2016-2017

On returning home from the Global UGRAD experience, I completed my undergraduate studies at my college within five months. I am now an MBA student in Kochi, Kerala which is quite far away from home. My semester in the U.S. taught me to be independent and tolerant, respectful of all cultures, customs, and norms, and this was how I was easily able to adapt to the melange of cultures here. I have also started volunteering regularly and taking on responsibility, something I learned as a Global UGRAD student. I currently play the role of a student council member, core committee member of the social club in our institute, student delegate, newsletter committee member and hostel representative among various others. I hope to get through the placements next and land myself a good position in a place where I can contribute towards the society around me.

Thodly Dugue, Haiti, Lincoln University, 2016-2017

Back in my country my life and my attitude changed in ways I would never imagine. I became more aware of my surroundings, more involved, more socially active and more independent. In April 2017, my team participated in a programming hackathon for the ICT Women’s Day and we won first place. Later, in July, I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. Besides, I kept on connecting with people by keeping up my work at volunteering. I help the maestro of the girls’ choir group every Saturday. I work with the youth and I am still a Sunday school teacher for children between 2 and 8 years old. I take care of the biblical lessons, of handicrafts, and I learn songs with the kids on Sunday morning. I also kept in touch with my friendship family and some of the friends that I made during this awesome program.

Jean-Briere Charles, Haiti, North Dakota State University, 2016-2017

After the Global UGRAD experience my life has extraordinarily changed. I became much more motivated to accomplish my dreams. In fact, immediately two days after I returned to my home country, I started looking for jobs because I wanted to become more independent than before. On my third day, I applied for three different job positions: two in the agricultural sector and one in translation. I was called on an interview for the translation one and I got hired by an international organization called BuildOn. It was a short contract, but I enjoyed the time spent there. I also provided an average of five hours a week of volunteering work as an English Tutor at a school in my home town for three months or so. In addition, on Saturdays I provided two hours of volunteering work as facilitator at the English Conversation Club at the American University of the Caribbean. In a partnership with three other investors, I have been working on developing a complex of enterprises to bring our contribution to the national economy. We already started with goat farming from which we hope to help modernize the meat market in Haiti. In June, I graduated from College with a BS in Agriculture and Environment with a concentration on Agro-forestry. Currently, I am looking for opportunities to go to graduate school to do a master’s degree in Environmental and Ecological Sciences. I am positive that next year, in September, I will start with graduate school!

Vanessa Archer, Haiti, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, 2016-2017

I had the opportunity to live a whole new life in the instant of four months and for this, I will forever be grateful. My struggles with cultural shock were real till I learned how to consolidate fragments and how to live in harmony with the new and the old in one body in order to make the most of the skills I acquired along the way. I went back to university and I am at my last year of my International Relations’ studies. After the defense of my graduation thesis I will be chasing opportunities for a Master degree in Diplomacy. Five months after returning home, I was transferred from the Prime Minister’s Communication office (where I’ve been working for years now) to the Directorate of Administrative Affairs & Budget. This enticing yet challenging position has been an opportunity for me to further my career as a state official. Last month (August) during my annual leave, I flew to Boston to meet an old Indian friend for the first time in 8 years of virtual friendship. His planning to come to Haiti in the future represents one more step on my quest to promote my country, its culture, and natural beauty overall. Regarding my personal development, I earned a certificate by The Agents of Change for attending a two-day seminar on Leadership from June 16 to 17. Also, my Global UGRAD experience increased my love for reaching out to people and volunteering. This weekend I plan to give back to my community by being part of a painting project for the Saint-Vincent school for the disabled. In addition, my end-of-year plans are pretty exciting; I look forward to helping friends with a fundraising and toy donation for the benefit of orphans, although we have not yet made a decision on the site.

Meerim Nurlanbekova, Kyrgyzstan, East Tennessee State University, 2016-2017

I am standing near my home holding a very heart-warming card from one of my students of Summer Camp America 2017 – an annual camp organized by American Councils for children living in remote and vulnerable areas of my country. I read it every time I want some inspiration. During my exchange semester in the USA, I learned about the importance of inclusiveness. I got so much inspiration volunteering in the “Coalition for Kids” organization helping children robbed of their childhood coming from socially disadvantaged families. If you see someone getting out of a circle, lend a helping hand to them. To include socially marginalized groups is a responsibility of each one of us. I will proceed working in the youth education sphere to empower kids in need. Let’s get united, let’s be better!

Aidai Amankulova, Kyrgyzstan, Utica College, 2016-2017

After returning home, I was very passionate to learn about my government more deeply, and moreover, the education system in my country. I spent my semester in the USA learning about the voting system during the presidential election and had a life chance to broaden my knowledge. I applied to the Ministry of Education for an internship but was assigned to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. I spent three interesting months there and was able to acquire new organizational skills and learn a lot about public work and how work goes in government. The Ministry of Culture made me more creative and artistic, so for summer of 2017 I decided to work in summer camps with kids. I was co-directing the camp but at the same time I was teaching, sharing my American experience, creating new ideas, being a team leader and even being a second mama for kids. I devoted my whole summer for fun with kids and for new insights! The time I’ve had at home since returning from the USA has been so eventful, busy, and rich with great people!

Sezim Altynbek Kyzy, Kyrgyzstan, Maryville College, 2016-2017

I returned to Kyrgyzstan with a great aspiration to change the world! Literally, I was ready to change the world! However, there were couple of things that I needed in order to reach my goals; more precisely, two things: a job that can help me influence people’s perception about the world and money in order to provide myself with necessary stuff. Therefore, I found two jobs. Currently, I am working as a freelance correspondent for the Asian Football Confederation and as a moderator at one of the English Language Centers in Bishkek, the capital of my Kyrgyz Republic. Was I able to change the world? Not yet, but I certainly changed perceptions of my students and younger brothers who also became my students. And yes, I absolutely fell in love with football, sports journalism, and the Asian Football Confederation fellows. P.S. I took this picture in Beyonce’s style. I was a bit anxious before writing my first report for the AFC in English language. However, I put Beyonce’s music on in order to cheer up and said to myself, “You came to slay, babe! You can do it!” And guess what? I did it!

Karen Gómez López, Costa Rica, Juniata College, 2011-2012

Experiences like the Global UGRAD scholarship change your life. Two years after returning home, I obtained my bachelor´s degree in English, and started working as a therapeutic field guide in Pure Life by Aspiro, which is my current job. I am also studying to get my bachelor’s degree in Social Work, and just recently I was awarded to be part of the YLAI fellowship program 2017. This is exciting because I am going to be able to work more on my personal goal of opening my adventure touristic company and a non-profit organization to help young people in southeast Costa Rica.

Emrah Kazaz, Bosnia, Lewis-Clark State College, 2016-2017

Since returning home as a Global UGRAD alum, I’ve done a lot. This program motivated me to continue with my goals and helped me realize how traveling and meeting other people can bring happiness and joy to a man’s life. Now, I want to travel more and learn as much as I can. I’ve been in some countries in Europe through Erasmus projects, and it has been a really good experience as well. I became National Director in my country for the International Student Environmental Coalition and Vice President of the Student Union. I’m planning to find more volunteers and start with some environmental projects, and I established the International Department of the Student Union. Also, one of the most important things I have done is became an English online teacher. This has been a blast for me! I’m doing one of the things I like and I can earn decent money for my life and college. (I’m at my last year before I graduate, and first semester I will finish in Slovenia as an Erasmus student and last one in my country.) I learned a lot about these job opportunities and I managed to help other people to find a job. As it’s very important to share your knowledge and experience, I am helping students who want to apply for the Global UGRAD Program or similar. Travel! Spread Love! Help! Be Happy!

Prabina Regmi, Nepal, University of Missouri, 2016-2017

Global UGRAD gave me a life changing opportunity. My confidence took a high level and I am much more devoted towards social work. I feel very lucky to share my Global UGRAD experiences and learning with my school, university, and many people. Recently I am busy with my university classes. My major field of study is Agriculture Science. I want to contribute and provide services to people in remote areas. Being an agriculturist and youth leader, my foremost priority is to help people in need. I want to thank Global UGRAD team for providing us such a great platform to enrich our knowledge “Once a UGRAD,always a UGRAD ” This is a picture of determined agriculturist.

Purnima Gyawali, Nepal, American University, 2016-2017

Since my return from the U.S., I am busy with my studies and involved in volunteering in social organizations during weekends. This trip to the USA has not only changed the way I used to see the world but has also increased the width and depth of understandings which fostered my personal and professional growth. Also my academic and outreach program experience from a semester-long study has helped me manage my time in study and inspired me to volunteer in my community. Since my childhood, I have always believed that the moment we create vision for others in our mind and want to help them; our footsteps will always move in that direction to make it come true. I am extremely thankful to Global UGRAD for helping me unleash my strengths.

Praise Mutte, Kenya, Presbyterian College, 2015-2016

Since returning home from the Global UGRAD Program, I have completed my degree in B.Sc Nursing. The program really did change me; I am more confident and I approach life in a more rational and realistic way. Currently I’m interning at Kenyatta National Hospital, the biggest referral hospital in East Africa and enjoying every bit. Global UGRAD is, so far, the best thing that has happened to me. I look forward to furthering my studies and working in the U.S.

Martina Dimoska, Macedonia, Kent State University, 2016-2017

Global UGRAD enables you. It’s an experience that increases your consciousness and reprograms you into a prominent leader. I mentored the ‘N.A.S.A. Space Apps Challenge 2017″ this year and it was the most successful by far due to efficient organization that improves each year. I’ve been investing my time and expertise in the evolving and educating start-up scene in Macedonia, especially in the rural areas where the majority is not familiar and needs training and inspiration. I’ve started a TV show called Innovators on our National Television – MTV1, promoting science, innovation and novel ideas. I’ve also started a collaboration with the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute of Mechatronics and Robotics and we built a prototype that we’re going to present in the SMASIS conference in Utah being the only ones from the Balkans. Finally, I participated in ISWiB 2017 in Belgrade, Serbia where I was a part of ‘Environment Is Us’, a workshop for bio-hacking where the goal was to measure the quality of air and water alongside other elements by using sensors made by the participants and the measurements helped in determining the human impact on the environment. The end result was a brighter perspective on something which is mostly talked about through theory but has enormous impact and it helped raising awareness and spreading the knowledge beyond. At the moment I am in Ohrid, on the Ivanov – International School of Young Leaders, set up by the President of Republic of Macedonia with a mission to stimulate the positive values of future leaders. We have eminent speakers here and I’m spending my time among the best young leaders in the country. It’s a fruitful conference so far!

Ahmed Salah El Din, Egypt, University of New Hampshire, 2016-2017

During my participation in the Global UGRAD Program, I formed countless friendship with Chinese friends that led me to decide to finally visit China. I had to work to fund my traveling and succeeded in getting the money through web development freelancing. I have been in China for a month and half already and I visited very fascinating places and lived through unforgettable moments. The most interesting place that I visited was Tibet, which is where I took this picture. There is a lot to say about Tibet, but I will definitely write more about that in detail in the future! Thank you so much guys and I’m looking forward to more contributions with World Learning and the U.S. Embassy!

Precious Daluz, Philippines, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2016-2017

What you can see in the picture is me standing on the classroom floor of the Mindanaw Tribal School Inc (MTSI). which I visited recently with six other Global UGRAD alumni from the Philippines. Although mainly I’ve been focusing on making the most of my final year in college, I have been on the lookout for opportunities to engage myself in community service involving education. The volunteer-teachers from MTSI do not receive any compensation or formal training for the work that they do, and lack materials (any materials which they do have are not modified to suit their culture). This is why I am drafting a grant proposal for a project I call Guro Katutubo (which translates to “The Ethnic Teacher”) that will focus on the professional development of these teachers, as well as parent visitations and cultural activities. I have also been selected to be one of Philippine Normal University’s Cultural Ambassadors; this means I accommodate our foreign visitors and give them cultural tours around Manila.

Christine Grace Meneses Catindig, Philippines, Utica College, 2016-2017

In this photo, I am standing at the University of the Philippines Baguio, where I recently graduated with high honors and learned much about indigenous cultures and their markers, like this distinct pattern. Since becoming a Global UGRAD alum, I have volunteered with International Exchange Alumni in helping a far-flung school in need of resources such as signs and fruit-bearing plants in this region. My Global UGRAD experience has also turned me into quite the storyteller as I have also given talks and written articles about the Program and my life as an exchange student. Currently, I’m working with Global UGRADs in Venezuela as an online media coordinator for our Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund project, which caters to young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I am also looking forward to working as the new Program Officer of Education USA in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy and pay forward the eye-opening opportunity I had in the U.S. on Global UGRAD.


Araceli Duré, Paraguay, Florida Gulf Coast University, 2016-2017

Currently I am doing an internship in an association called Guyra (Bird) Paraguay, and I’m soon to be working on my thesis with a an NGO called Moisés Bertoni. I’m also working on a project with the Association of Environmental Students of my University (AECIAM) to have a Food Forest of our own, just like the one FGCU has.


Dinh Bao Ngoc, Vietnam, Chatham University, 2016-2017

Since Global UGRAD, I have been back to my country where I am used to being, doing what I am acquainted with – studying and teaching. I became an intern teacher at my university and for the first time, and I experienced the position of a lecturer. The academic environment in the United States and Vietnam both gave me so much inspiration to further pursue study and research. Will my name be written on one such book cover one day? From where I stand, the same things were not the same anymore.

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