Once a Partner, Always a Partner

Author: 
Stephanie Bishop, 100,000 Strong in the Americas Participant

I heard that phrase a lot during my internship with Partners of the Americas’ Program Development unit last fall in Washington, D.C., but did not fully understand it. I immediately saw that the internship would not be mundane; I got to experience all of the inner workings of the NGO with days as exciting as a full time employee. One of my favorite memories is working on a winning $6 million proposal to implement Paraguay Okakuaa, a project  that reduces the worst forms of  child labor and improves labor law enforcement and working conditions in Paraguay. I will also never forget the wonderful office camaraderie and the bond that the interns formed.

I am a junior at George Mason University with a double major in Global Affairs and Spanish. During my internship, I began looking into study abroad programs for the spring semester. I wanted to get more experience with Latin American culture and immerse myself in a Spanish speaking community. I found a program at La Universidad de San Andres (UdeSA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina and as I looked into it further, I made an incredible discovery. One of the academic tracks that I could apply to was designed and funded by a grant from none other than Partners of the Americas through President Obama’s signature education initiative in the Western Hemisphere, 100,000 Strong in the Americas. I wasted no time in applying and after receiving my acceptance letter the entire Partners office and I were ecstatic that I would have the chance to go from being a Partners intern to a 100,000 Strong in the Americas participant!

President Obama launched 100,000 Strong in the Americas five years ago with the goal of increasing study abroad across our hemisphere. He hopes to have 100,000 students from the Americas studying abroad in the U.S., and 100,000 U.S. students studying abroad in the Americas, by the end of the decade. To accomplish this goal, Partners of the Americas, NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the U.S. State Department implement the initiative through a public-private collaboration with the White House.

The 100,000 Strong in the Americas program at La Universidad de San Andres is a unique service learning experience. I arrived in Buenos Aires on March 1 and will finish my program in mid-July. While the context of classes at private universities here are similar to the U.S., the structure seem to be a bit less formal with a more casual relationship between professors and students and a more open-style lecture in which students interject their opinions or questions freely. Public universities are even less formal with attendance. It will typically take a student six years to complete a bachelor’s degree because most go to school and work at the same time.

The program incorporates cultural activities as well and I have opportunities to visit museums and local heritage sites, take tango lessons, and be paired up with local students. My favorite experiences thus far have been meeting Argentinian students, trying mate for the first time, travelling to Patagonia, and eating copious amounts of dulce de leche!

UdeSA also has a PartnersCampus student chapter that was created in 2012, which I have joined. There are about 25 students in the chapter and they have all been so welcoming to me! This year they have plans to host multiple street cleaning events while talking to pedestrians about what Partners does. They are also preparing to host a Conferencia Involucrate, (Get Involved Conference) where local NGOs and businesses will come and share their knowledge of funding, recruitment, planning, and publicity.

My most unforgettable experience was attending President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting in Buenos Aires on Wednesday, March 23. The event focused on the importance of people-to-people collaboration between the United States and Argentina, specifically among youth. President Obama discussed that young people are the generation who have both experienced so much rapid change in the world and are also best situated to affect change for the better. We desire to build prosperity through entrepreneurship and lifting everyone up to have access to the same opportunities. He discussed how so many of the same issues plague our two countries such as poverty, lack of access to resources, and lack of investment in small business. That is why “building more vibrant connections between young people” and collaboration in all fields of study is so important.

President Obama also emphasized his commitment to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas. It was a wonderful experience to hear him speak about the initiative and to know that I am now one of the 100,000 students representing the U.S. abroad! His speech was very well received. Many people thanked him for coming to Argentina and for his commitment to increasing dialogue between the two nations. He also made an incredibly important call to action for Americans to become more knowledgeable of the rest of the world, more respectful of other cultures, and make more of an effort to learn foreign languages. This is something that I have always felt that Americans need to improve upon. Speaking from experience, there is nothing so rewarding as being able to communicate with people in another language and fully immerse yourself in a new culture.

In just a little over seven months, Partners of the Americas has enhanced my career and life in so many ways. From an internship at the Washington D.C. office to becoming a 100,000 Strong in the Americas participant, no phrase has ever resonated so strongly with me as, “Once a Partner, always a Partner.”

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