I've had a chance to spend a couple of hours over several weeks with a group of 23 Iraqi students who are studying at VCU this summer as part of the State Department-sponsored IYLEP program (Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program). What an amazing group of students.
I was reflecting this evening on some corner of their reality. Most of them are in their late teens, born around the time or just after the first U.S. invasion of their country – after Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait. Their childhoods were spent beneath a U.S.-imposed "No Fly Zone" and an embargo, as well as Saddam's ruthless regime. (An exception to this would be the students from the Kurdish north, who dealt with their own challenges but under a reasonably autonomous regional government.) Finally, where they were pre-teens, the U.S. invaded again and has occupied their country for the better part of a decade.
Politics aside, what a challenge! Literally, their entire lives have been spent – to some degree – beneath the shadow of the U.S. military and government.
For the rest of the summer, these Iraqi students will be working with 25 VCU mass communication students on projects for local nonprofits, as they continue to learn about new social media technologies. (VCU student Denise Virostek wrote about my presentation to the group today.)
They'll also be blogging about their experiences at Richmond.com, and hopefully having an amazing summer away from home!