This summer, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs convened 80 exceptional young women from 21 countries and 10 U.S. undergraduate students for the Women Embracing Leadership and Service Conference. The conference, designed to promote the exchange of ideas on women’s issues across the globe, was the kick-off event for the 2018 Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership. These institutes are five-week academic programs for foreign undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 25 that explore a variety of topics from a U.S. perspective, including the role of women in public life. These programs, held at the Green River College (WA), Saint Mary’s College (IN), University of Delaware, and the University of Kansas, are designed to build participants’ understanding of the United States and develop their leadership skills. For most of the young women, this was their first time in the United States and their excitement and anticipation for the program was palpable. The conference began with a cultural festival where the participants showcased aspects of their cultures through food, dress, jewelry, dance, photos, and more. The women hailed from the following countries: Afghanistan, Cote D’Ivoire, Egypt, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Liberia, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, and Zambia.
At the festival, the women exchanged stories with each other about their hometowns and cultures. Some even brought food, like the Tunisian pastry Kaak Warka, an almond paste-like donut. The festival generated a lot of buzz amongst the participants as they took the opportunity to network, take “selfies,” and dance with each other.
The following morning, the day of the Women’s Leadership Opening Conference, remarks were given by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador Jennifer Zimdahl Galt. Ambassador Galt spoke to the young women about their role as cultural ambassadors and how they “exemplify what women leaders look like around the world, and what brings us all together.” During the Q&A portion of the session, Ambassador Galt answered questions ranging from how many hours she sleeps at night to the importance of securing mentors that will help lead to success. “I think as women, we set our own glass ceiling. The toughest challenge for us is to not set our own limits. Recognize you have the potential to do great things.”
Participants also heard from a panel of women leaders from Washington D.C., representing public, private, and nonprofit sectors in the United States. The panel discussed burnout and caring for yourself, the trajectories of the panelists’ career paths, fine-tuning your professional and personal leadership skills, and how to use accolades and success as fuel for your work. Following the session, panelists were able to connect with participants one-on-one to share more personalized advice and make connections for future engagement.
Conversations continued in the participant-driven Launchpad Discussions where the women shared their own knowledge and experiences to tackle a variety of issues that women face around the world in smaller groups. The sessions covered topics ranging education, women in the workplace, gender-based violence, among others. Interns from the State Department had the opportunity to sit in on these discussions, learning about global perspectives and sharing their U.S. experiences. These discussions served as “launch pads” for the participants to create action plans for projects they begin to develop during their program and implement when they return home.
After the conference, the participants continued on to the four partner universities where they continued discussions on women’s leadership and also reflected on their experiences in Washington, DC. The program came to an end on July 28, and the young women returned home, ready to use their newly developed knowledge, skills, and networks to impact their communities and countries. It is through programs like this that women from around the world are able to become effective leaders through academic work, volunteer opportunities, and engaging with American communities, working together to find solutions to global challenges for women across cultures and borders.
About the Author: Emma Bettiol serves in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' Office of Academic Exchange Programs in the Study of the U.S. Branch.
For more information: