State Department’s Iraq Young Leaders Exchange Program brings 21 students to campus

IYLEP students at Eastern Market
     Third Thursday shopping at Eastern Market 

Arriving in Detroit at the beginning of a heatwave has not been a tough transition for 21 Iraqi students studying at Wayne State for three weeks through a special exchange sponsored and funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and U.S. Department of State and implemented by World Learning.

The Iraq Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) for Undergraduates brings college students to the U.S. for a month to learn about leadership, civic engagement and peacebuilding. In 2017 and 2018, WSU hosted orientation for a group of about 90 IYLEP students, helping them acclimate to American life before heading off in small groups to four universities across the country to focus on academic programs related to their majors. This year, orientation moved to Washington, D.C., and WSU was selected to host an academic program for one of the groups.   

IYLEP students having dinner
          Dining at Eastern Market

While these students come from all over Iraq, different regions, schools and backgrounds, they are all here to learn about collaboration and communication. By the end of their stay, the students will have worked together on the creation of a podcast.

“I will develop skills that will both help with my project and my English language skills,” says IYLEP student Shaiban Muthana Essa. “It’s one thing to read and write with these skills but it’s another to actually practice them. I’m excited to learn the difference between American and Arabic culture. The diversity is amazing.”

The students have engaged in a variety of activities meant to facilitate teamwork and to give them a sliver of the Detroit experience. Daily coursework focuses on public speaking and presentation skills and there also are meetings with community leaders and interaction with WSU students. The students enjoyed a private lunch with President M. Roy Wilson where they had the opportunity to exchange question and answers.

IYLEP student shopping at Eastern Market
     Checking out the wares at Eastern Market

Cultural activities include a scavenger hunt around the city, a tour of TechTown, trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, Eastern Market and Cedar Point.

“Detroit is a great city, it is a city of culture,” says IYLEP student Ghaith Basil Kamal. “This is a great opportunity and a new way to give feedback to people in Iraq about the U.S.”

The students didn’t know one another before being accepted into the program, so IYLEP aims to foster understanding and relationships between people of different ethnic and religious groups.

“I’ve been working with IYLEP now for three summers in a row,” says Fareed Shalhout, associate director for student programs in the Office of International Programs, which organizes and manages IYLEP on campus. “I just think the program has a huge impact on the students that come here. It’s not just an impact that lasts for five minutes its one that lasts a lifetime.

“My favorite part is seeing the transformation from day one until they leave,” said Shalhout, “They grow relationships and have dialogue with people they would probably never speak to otherwise. I’m excited to see what visions they have for their projects when they go back to Iraq.”


By Jacob Stocking, OIP communications associate

The Office of International Programs leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda. Follow us @WayneOIP.


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