SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy is hoping for a repeat performance of introducing teenagers from Iraq to Salt Lake City.
"I think our organization and our community performed very well last year," said Laura Dupuy, executive director of UCCD.
In 2012, UCCD paired 10 Iraqi high school students with families in the Salt Lake City metro area. This year, UCCD hopes Utah families will host 9 Iraqi high school students and 1 Iraqi adult mentor in their homes.
"We're so excited to be selected as one of five cities across the country to partner with the U.S. Department of State in one of the premiere youth programs in the world," Dupuy said.
The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The program offers Iraqi and American students, ages 15 to 17, the opportunity to participate in a three-week youth exchange program in the United States, according to the website. One of the more critical aspects of the program is the home-stay.
"It gives the Iraqi youth a chance to meet Americans, to see American values, and what we stand for," Dupuy said. "And it gives American teenagers the opportunity to meet firsthand with teenagers from Iraq and find out what their lives are like."
In the past, Iraqi and Utah teens found that as they learned about each other, they had more in common than they realized. Rana, a 2012 participant from Northern Iraq, said she appreciated what the program and her American peers taught her.
"They changed their perspective about us," she said. "And we changed our perspective about them. We're going to get the chance to change the whole world, not just our country.
Hosting an Iraqi teen requires being open to learning about other cultures, just as the Iraqi teens look forward to experiencing how Americans — particularly Utahans — live their lives.
"Eat hamburgers and pizza and exchange their own cultural ideas and cuisine," Dupuy said. "Do fun things like go to the movies, go bowling and go to Lagoon."
When asked if UCCD thought Utahans would be apprehensive about hosting Iraqi teens because of the current political climate in the Middle East, Dupuy said this youth leadership program is all about breaking barriers and misconceptions, not politics.
"What I think people will find is that the Iraqi teenagers are so sophisticated. They're all fluent in English and love American culture," Dupuy said. "Conversely, (Iraqi teens) are also able to share some of the pop music they're listening to and share their culture."
Part of the 2013 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program includes visits to Washington, D.C., and Virginia for the Global Youth Village, an international youth leadership summer camp. Two Utah teens will win an all-expenses paid trip to join their Iraqi counterparts in the nation's capitol.
"During the week in Washington, D.C., and 10 days at the Global Youth Village summer camp, there will be hundreds of teenagers from all over the world," Dupuy said. "I invite Utah teens to apply for a very exclusive opportunity. This is your chance to travel the world, right here in the United States."
For more information about the program, how to apply and specific dates of the events, visit www.utahdiplomacy.org.