By Jeffrey Marshall
Although it has been more than a decade since I graduated from Youth Initiative High School (YIHS), I can say without reservation that it played a profound role in my development as a critical thinker and globally-minded citizen. YIHS has a way of bringing the excitement and diversity of the world into the classroom, whether it was through the materials we studied or the teachers we learned from. Very early into my time at YIHS, I remember being drawn to the German language class, as it was taught by a German man who had immigrated to the United States several years before. Beyond learning the language, I enjoyed his stories about what it was like to grow up and live in Germany before its reunification in 1989. I also remember learning about the different cultures of the world through our religions class, during which we learned about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and many others—all in a small classroom in Viroqua, Wisconsin. These experiences instilled a curiosity within me to engage with the world.
After a short exchange experience in southern Germany during my junior year at YIHS, I was eager to return and continue my study of the German language. With the support and guidance of Jacob Hundt, one of YIHS’ founders, I learned about a college offering a one-year program in Berlin, Germany during my senior year. As such, I spent my first year after graduating at a college in Berlin, where I immersed myself in studies of philosophy, history, political science, and the German language. During my time in Berlin, I was surrounded by people from all around the world—China, Kazakhstan, Romania, Nepal, and France to name a few. I had never been to any of these places, but the unique educational experience I’d received at YIHS helped me to connect and build relationships with people from backgrounds immensely different from my own.
Since my time in Berlin, I’ve lived and worked in the country of Georgia, studied the Urdu language in Lucknow, India, completed graduate studies, and relocated to Washington, DC to work in the international affairs arena. I’ve enjoyed each opportunity that has presented itself to me since graduating from high school, but I will always recognize the profound role that YIHS played in my development, which was to inspire me to continue learning and be curious about the world and my place in it.
Note: After graduating from YIHS in 2006, Jeff began his undergraduate studies in Berlin, Germany at the European College of Liberal Arts. After a wonderful year in Germany, he returned to the U.S. and earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Upon graduating, he moved to Tbilisi, Georgia to establish international exchange networks that enabled hundreds of students and faculty from countries in the former Soviet Union to study at institutions throughout the European Union. In 2015, he returned to the U.S. and completed graduate studies in international affairs and public relations at Syracuse University. During his time as a graduate student, he studied the Urdu language in India as a Boren Fellow. Most recently, he worked in Washington, DC on the Global UGRAD-Pakistan program, where he supported young leaders from Pakistan during their time as exchange students in the United States. He currently lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Eka.
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