Although they both have been to the United States before, focusing in on their topic of interest led Australians Will Emmett and Gareth Parker to see America through a different lens. As part of their International Visitor Leadership Program “21st Century Youth: Politics and New Media,” the two Australians met with social media and grassroots political organization leaders across the country. As they traveled, the aspect of America that interested them most was the diversity, both of people and ideas.
“The program allowed me a richer understanding of the diversity of geography, culture, race, thought, opinion that exists in the great social experiment that is America,” says Gareth.
“The diversity of the whole trip was certainly one of the highlights,” says Will. “Being able to visit such a diverse set of cities and to meet so many different people. Each city we arrived in I thought might be a certain way – but this would often turn out to not be the case. Visiting each city was like entering a new country. It was amazing.”
Will and Gareth visited several cities, including: Washington, DC; Orlando, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Seattle. The two traveled together with an English Language Officer (ELO) who explained American customs and helped them find their meetings.
Back in Australia, Gareth is a newspaper reporter and Will runs a think tank. The program helped them understand the viewpoints of Americans and American politics which often was very different from the political system of Australia and their initial perceptions.
“One of the biggest realizations of the trip, in general, is the perceived distance between the small cities and Washington, DC,” says Will. It was something that you hear a lot about in the media and from many political figures. Meeting with people in smaller cities you could understand how and why they might feel disconnected from the nation’s capital.”
And the two appreciated having each other, as well as their ELO, to further explore what they had been learning.
“We were of a like mind on many issues, but had quite divergent opinions on others, so it made for stimulating discussion,” Gareth says.
Of the overall experience, Gareth says the opportunity broadened his mind, while Will adds that it helped to hear how Americans view Australia. “When you’re exposed to different ways of doing things, it changes the way you think,” says Gareth.