A Woman with Worldly Ambitions

by Emily Huntington

Horizon Editor

Having traveled to Nepal, India, Argentina, Chile, and several other countries, Iris Metzgen-Ohlswager, 32, was determined to work in international education.

Metzgen-Ohlswager attended the University of Minnesota at Duluth for her undergraduate studies, and obtained a B.A. in English. She got her master’s in education at Western, then she applied at Whatcom when she saw an open position for a coordinator for international students. This is her first year here.

“I have always wanted to connect people from different cultures through education,” she said. “I think this is the best way to fight bias, bigotry, and discrimination.”

Metzgen-Ohlswager is in charge of the Northwest Initiative Multiple Country Grant. It is similar to another grant known as the Egypt Initiative, which is run by Mary Mele. The only difference is, Mele’s students are all from Egypt, whereas Metzgen-Ohlswager’s students come from all over the globe.

There are currently 13 students enrolled here from nine countries: Panama, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon and India.

The students come here for a year to earn a certificate in hospitality and tourism, business/retail Management, or IT computer technology. They are here until August, when they will complete their certificate programs while living close to campus at the Cascade Meadows apartments.

The grant pays for everything, including tuition and even their heating bill, which Metzgen-Ohlswager tells the students, with a hint of a smile, is “way too high.”  They are also given a monthly stipend for food, Metzgen-Ohlswager explained.

They agree to spend at least two years in their own country applying what they’ve learned before leaving, or returning to the United States for work.

They experience American culture firsthand while presenting their own culture at the same time by involving themselves in local civic activities, like politics and government.

At their October 4 meeting, Metzgen-Ohlswager passed around a sheet to her students to sign up to present to the Rotary Club. They will present their culture, and also get credit for being involved in the community, which is a big part of the program.

Students will be also present at International Education Week, taking place  November 15 through 19, where they present their country in a way that most people wouldn’t expect, showing things that may not be known about their country. Presentations will take place in the early afternoon.

Soon, they will be given what is called a “Passport to America,” which is a checklist-like packet that includes different activities to do…they get a stamp when they complete civic activities, such as going to a city council meeting.

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