Cultural Exchange: Why it Matters
September 13, 2020
It’s 2017 – I had just moved across the country to the quaint town of Estes Park, Colorado.
By: Kate Allison, YMCA of the Rockies Association Recruiter/ Video Content Specialist,
It’s 2017 – I had just moved across the country to the quaint town of Estes Park, Colorado where I would be interning at YMCA of the Rockies. When I first came across the internship, I couldn’t believe an opportunity like this existed. Not only were interns and seasonal staff able to live right next to Rocky Mountain National Park, but housing, food, pay, and endless employee perks were provided, too. Coming from the city, internships were rarely paid and they definitely did not provide employee perks like free gear rentals for outdoor adventures. An internship at YMCA of the Rockies was like hitting the jackpot.
For the first two weeks, I was roommate-less. Then one day I came home to find another nametag on my door; “Jessica, Colombia.”
“Oh geez… I’m not fluent in Spanish! How will we communicate?!”
Fast forward two weeks and I was convinced I had, once again, hit the jackpot! Because of Jessica, I was introduced to the vibrant culture of Colombia. By the end of the month, Jessica and the other Colombian international students were dragging me to downtown Estes Park to learn salsa, bachata, merengue… something I still can’t believe they got me to do! Living and working alongside Jessica and people from around the world was like studying abroad without having to break the bank or travel overseas. We bonded over our mutual love for Spanish music and how spontaneous nights were the best kind of nights. We learned to communicate despite the language barrier and most importantly, we found out we wore the same size clothes.
Towards the end of July, I ended up working closely with the International Department on a more professional level. Whether it was helping take pictures for different cultural events or sending in press releases for the local papers about the events, I had become fully immersed in the International Program without even realizing it. The international trainee for the HR department, Miao, quickly became one of my favorite people at the Y. The enthusiasm and passion she carried for cultural exchange was contagious. To me, she was like a mentor during my early stages of diversity, inclusion and global work – teaching me about the visa process, what other international programs currently exist, and the importance of approaching life through multiple lenses.
The unexpected cultural exchange at the Y opened my eyes and heart to the beauty of diversity. It also taught me the importance of being intentional about cultural exchange. By providing the opportunity for people to come together and share a common experience, our universal values come to light while misconceptions and stereotypes perpetuated by the media, society, or our own local communities are debunked. Cultural exchange makes the world a more connected place for everyone. It’s only when we recognize the value of all cultures are we finally able to work together to create a better world.
For me, it was the International Program at YMCA of the Rockies that solidified what it meant to serve the YMCA mission. At its core, this program embodies social responsibility and to be for all. I work at the Y for many reasons, but it’s the Y’s commitment to diversity and offering leadership opportunities for people from around the world that make YMCA of the Rockies my employer of choice