The efforts of CIEE alumni and a project called Diplomats of Diversity led to four students from Club Barbès in Paris visiting Harvard University on April 22-23.
During their visit, the student diplomats – Babacar, Jays, Dinehs, and Oumou – gave presentations to numerous French classes about a variety of topics, such as French music, their neighborhood in France, and the Club Barbès organization. They also joined Harvard students for classes and meals. As a result, they strengthened their leadership skills, practiced speaking English, and began to form international bonds with peers.
The group was hosted by Harvard student and CIEE alum Virginie Chan, who studied in Paris in 2013. Chan has roots in Paris, too, having lived there with her parents, who immigrated to France from Cambodia in 1979.
“I still recall the discrimination that my family faced,” says Virginie. “I was eager to get involved with Club Barbès because I saw a lot of parallels between my own experience in France and the lives of the Club Barbès students. Although I was primarily tasked with helping the students with their English homework, I had the chance to engage in deep discussion with them about their dreams, their families, and their lives in France.”
“They shared with me their stories and the obstacles that they had overcome to be where they are today. I wanted to do everything that I could to support these students,” continued Virginie, who also organized a club outing to the U.S. Embassy in Paris during her stay.
Back in the United States, Virginie worked with Harvard faculty to make this visit possible. “I thought it would be a wonderful experience for them to visit one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world,” she explains. “It was so exciting to see the diplomats speaking comfortably and eloquently in front of a full Harvard classroom. My peers were so interested . . . many rushed afterwards to speak with them individually.”
Initially funded by CIEE and the Ping Foundation, Diplomats of Diversity is an extension of volunteer work done by U.S. students from CIEE’s Contemporary French program in Paris. For five years, students in this program have provided tutoring and support to teenagers from Goutte d’Or, who face daily challenge as a result of their economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, and must master English to succeed in France. Through Diplomats of Diversity, this important work extends beyond France to the United States, when Club Barbès students make an annual visit to the home universities of select CIEE alumni. Upon their return to France, students share their discoveries at a community event.
As this event shows, the positive effects of intercultural interactions often ripple farther than you might expect. “Virginie’s efforts show that studying abroad hasa significant impact for CIEE alumni, as well as for those they connect with abroad and then later when they’re back in the United States,” says David Fougere, chief operating officer for CIEE Study Abroad.