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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Program alters the way students and families see the world

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As technology and travel continue to make our world smaller, an increasing number of Americans are forming connections with people around the globe. Despite this, African-Americans often find that negative stereotypes about Black people exist globally. One local woman believes the best way to debunk those labels is to make meaningful connections across racial and cultural boundaries.  

Sheaundra Graves is a local coordinator with Foreign Links Around the Globe (FLAG), a nonprofit organization that places foreign exchange students with families across the U.S. Graves wants to encourage Black families in Indianapolis to host international students, because she feels it would be an opportunity to share African-American culture with the world.

“There is so much going on in today’s society, and there is so much pointing the finger at African-Americans. You never really hear much good. I know plenty of good African-American citizens in Indiana. I feel like this is a great opportunity to get families to educate themselves about other cultures while also educating that student about our culture,” said Graves.

Graves became interested in working with FLAG after helping a friend find host families for students. She felt the need to get involved because she wanted the world to know that Black people cared about international issues.

“Whenever you see World Vision or things like that, they only show a lot of caucasian families. That leaves the world thinking they are the only people that are helping, and that’s not true. I was working with inner-city youth with my church The Caring Place, and I wanted to do more to get involved. If I can’t go overseas on a mission trip, why not reach international students here?”

Sarah Britt, a short-term program manager with FLAG, says she has seen students change negative perspectives after getting to know their host families. Britt recalled a time when a student was placed with an interracial couple that included a Black man.

“The student was adamant that they were not going to live there. We told him this is just how American culture is, and a couple of weeks into it he loved that family,” said Britt. “When they come from a white farm town in Germany and everyone is a white German, it’s a completely different world. A lot of our school systems here are so diverse, it changes everything.”

Sixteen-year-old Dickson Alexander is one of many students currently in America via the FLAG program. Originally from Tanzania, a large country in eastern Africa, he says his time in America has been a positive experience.

“I wanted to come to America because I feel like it’s the most diverse country. I want to learn about different cultures, but not just the American culture; I want to learn the Asian and European culture and other cultures,” said Alexander. “Where I’m from it’s like a whole different world. For the first couple of days, it was difficult adjusting to being here. When I first got here, everything was different. How they did things were different, and the food was different, too. My favorite part of being in the program is meeting different people and learning how they live.”

The trip to America has given Alexander the opportunity to connect with kids from around the globe, including Japan, Germany, Spain and Brazil. Recently, all of the local FLAG students took a group ski trip with staff to spend time together. 

Graves feels that rather than teaching students about America, the experience ended up being more of a cultural exchange that allowed her to learn just as much from her students as they have from her. 

“Ever since I started working with FLAG and meeting these students from around the world face to face, I’ve had a different perspective on their cultures. It surprised me, because it’s not what I think based on school history classes,” said Graves.

Britt hopes that both the host families and students take away a lasting appreciation of other cultures and gain an inclusive view of the world. 

“After you become an adult, you get set in your ways, and it’s harder to change someone’s perspective,” she said. “At 15 or 16, this experience causes their whole worldview to change. There is a prejudice that exists in the world, and these students take their changed worldview home with them. It’s important for these students to experience our culture and for us to experience theirs, as well.” 

Foreign Links Around the Globe (FLAG) is a U.S. based nonprofit international exchange organization. For more information on FLAG, visit flag-intl.org or contact Sheaundra Graves at (317) 979-1509. 

 



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