Rather than traveling to many different cities nonstop for an entire month, some Eastern European students get the opportunity to stay with a host family for seven to ten days. It is there where they learn American culture and get a first hand look at the Akron lifestyle. These host families not only provide meals and a place to stay, but the offer these international visitors the chance to connect and create close bonds. Even though there is much unrest in the greater Eastern European regions, the Open World program continues to push on to facilitate international connections.
Similar to the International Visitor Leadership Program, the participants in the Open World program will attend meetings daily to learn as much as they can about life in America. One key difference is that the conversations during these programs are more personal and zero in on specific issues or concerns. For example, one Serbian group in the last year focused on social media and social exchange through media. Their conversations started with a ‘mommy blogger’ conference and were furthered through presentations and company visits. Other groups have focused on the issues of women’s rights and the success of women in business here in America.
“These topics open up a dialogue for the visitors where they can share their experiences and learn from our practices, it really makes a difference,” Shannon Anicas, program director for Global Ties Akron shared. “One of our most memorable experiences of information sharing was through a Ukrainian group who spoke to some of the Tallmadge 5th and 6th graders,” Anicas continued, “when the unrest started, these kids followed the stories in the news and truly cared about what was going on.” Global Ties Akron is able to host these programs through government funding, but the impact is priceless.
“It’s more than just what the media is saying, that’s what these programs do, they show both sides first hand circumstances and ultimately the truth,” Anicas stated. The Open World program has ‘slowed down’ according to Anicas, but Global Ties Akron is hopeful for the future of the program. Since the initiative is to breakdown cultural barriers, the Open World program is a highly sought after experience. Unfortunately, because of the strife in Eastern Europe, many of those looking to engage in the program have to do so secretly and wish to be unnamed. “Their courage and stories are real however, and that makes the program worthwhile,” Anicas explained.