Due to the nature of my degree, I often get asked ‘have you actually BEEN to America?’
And thanks to the Windsor Fellowship and the Hummer Tuttle Foundation, I can say that I have.
In 2012, I was in my first year of college, studying AS Levels (which ages me ever so slightly now that they don’t exist in the same way anymore). I came across the UK-US Youth Dialogue Programme (YDP), run by the Windsor Fellowship and sponsored by the Hummer Tuttle Foundation (established by former US Ambassador to the UK Robert Tuttle and his wife Maria). The programme advertised a cultural exchange for London students in sixth-form or college, and included a trip to the USA in the summer of 2013, the dates of which hadn’t been finalised yet.
The only problem was that I was already going on holiday that summer to Spain with my mother. I emailed the programme coordinator and explained my predicament and she told me that I probably wouldn’t be able to take part as the dates of my holiday would clash with, but suggested applying the next year.
As soon as the applications for the 2014 cycle opened, I was ready to go. I submitted a lengthy application form, got a reference from my tutor, and waited. In mid February I got a phone call to say that I had been accepted on to the programme, which would start with an ‘introductory evening’ in late February where I would meet my 11 fellow participants.
After attending the evening, I had bonded with everyone is the group, and gotten to meet the team who made it possible. Yvonne and Trevor, who would be our seminar facilitators, Rukiya and Josh who would travel with us to the US, Rose who coordinated with the Hummer Tuttle Foundation, and Kevin who represented the Windsor Fellowship.
In March I met my group at King’s Cross Station in London. We travelled to a hotel in Cambridge where we would attend 3 weekend seminars over the next 3 months. We learnt about leadership, community, and came up with a name for ourselves. We would be called Platform12. This was a homage to the 12 of us and our initial meeting on the platform in King’s Cross, but also an acknowledgement that the YDP is a ‘platform’ for those taking part to succeed.
Before we knew it, we were on our way to the US. We spent a week in Chicago, with a home-stay family who opened up their homes to us so that we could learn more about them, their city and their American experiences. We saw a baseball game, and visited community projects. We then spent a week in Vermont in a learning institution, where we met Iraqi and American students and talked about their experiences at home and abroad. As Platform 12 we also discussed personal issues we felt were important, such as disability acknowledgement and class divisions.
After we returned, we had a catch up seminar to review what we’d experienced and learned whilst in the US, and in late September gave a presentation to the programme staff, our family and friends, and Maria and Robert Tuttle.
In October of 2014, I started studying at the University of Essex. My experience in the US impacted my studies greatly. It gave me a new outlook and perspective on what I was being taught. On a personal level, I couldn’t wait to return to the US, particularly Chicago where I felt such a connection with the city.
In 2017 I will finally return, and will be sure to visit Chicago during my year abroad. And I will love every second of it, just like I did last time.
You can visit the Hummer Tuttle Foundation’s website here, and you can read more about the YDP here. Yes that’s a quote from me at the bottom, and all of it’s true to this day. I get emotional just thinking about how amazing an opportunity the YDP was for me. I made lifelong friends, and learnt so much about other cultures and myself. The experience was truly priceless, and I’m so grateful and thankful to everyone who made it possible.
Featured photo credit to the amazing Charlie Watson. Go check out his work on his Instagram, over here and give him a follow @charliewatsxn!