Global Youth Exchange Program

Project: Global Youth Exchange (GYE) program

Mia Project Organizers: Crystal Price, Teen and Community Associate and Wennicha Yang, Global Youth Exchange Project Liaison

Project Dates: December 13th, 2019 – May 15th, 2020

Division/Department: Learning Innovation

Other Mia Departments & Colleagues Involved: Karleen Gardner – Director of Learning Innovation Division, Elisabeth Callihan – Head of Multi-Generational Learning Department, Ryan Lee – Media Production Lead, Media and Technology Division, and Katherina Vang – DAMLI Fellow.

Community Partners Involved: The Southeast Asian Diaspora (SEAD) Project; Saengmany Ratsabout (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities); Anh-Hoa Nguyen (artist); Akiko Ostlund (artist); The Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota (VSAM); Audrey Park (Programs Manager, Theatre Mu); Kealoha Ferreira (Artistic Associate, Ananya Dance Theatre); Phouc Tran (artist); Felipe Nurmi (Head of Performing Arts, (Renaissance International School Saigon); Atlanta Cecilia Frith (Art and Design Teacher, Renaissance International School Saigon) & Renaissance International School Saigon Students.

Audience/user (could be internal or external): Youth (ages 14-18) in the Twin Cities

Project Goals: GYE Program was envisioned as a way for Mia to foster greater cultural understanding among young people in Minnesota (ages 14–18) and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This exchange program addresses the global need for cross-cultural and empathy-building opportunities for youth around the world, as well as the need to build connections with and lift the voices of Southeast Asian communities, in Southeast Asia and Minnesota. GYE aimed to expand participant’s global perspectives, and develop critical-thinking skills and self-confidence through the exploration of program components, activities and themes.

Artistic associate and dancer at Ananya Dance Theatre Kealoha (Kea) Ferreira led us in a movement workshop. She asked us to answer the question “Where are you from?” using only our body movements.

Project Description: GYE program involved 10 young people (14-18 years old) from the US, and 10 from Vietnam and featured an arts-based curriculum, travel experience, and culminating exhibition. The arts-based curriculum explored the following themes:

Program leads worked collaboratively with the SEAD Project to develop program curriculum and bring in local Asian American guest artists to lead workshops, as well as organize field trips to Asian American art centers. Participants were challenged to explore art within the Southeast Asian diaspora, and create art that reflected their own identities and values.

Over one hundred youths applied to be a part of GYE program through an online application. Mia project leads, Crystal and Wennicha met in early November 2019 to review and select 35 applicants for an in-person interview based on the degree to which their written applications conveyed a genuine interest in art, learning about Southeast Asian culture, and some awareness of global issues. Ten youth were chosen from the in-person interviews based on their passion for the program, demonstrated ability to work well with others, leadership, creativity, and maturity; the program leads also intentionally selected candidates that, collectively, represented a diversity of backgrounds and gave preference to those who conveyed that they had limited access to other arts programs.

Program participants and their parent(s)/guardian(s) attended an orientation to better acquaint themselves with one another, program expectations, and answer questions.

Youth and guardians acquired the following documents by March 2020, to ensure safe travel abroad for one week in April, 2020:

  • An up-to-date US international passport
  • Program travel consent forms
  • Up-to-date immunization shots and travel vaccinations
  • Signed & notarized Vietnam Visa forms
  • Passport photos

The travel experience was expected to encompass travel to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam during the week of March 27th – April 4th, and host Vietnam youth in Minnesota during the week of May 2nd – May 9th, 2020. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, GYE participants were not able to travel to Vietnam, or host Vietnam-based youth in Minnesota. GYE art-making sessions shifted to virtual sessions after March 15th, 2020. GYE participants put together a virtual exhibition to highlight their experiences, artwork, and stories. In the coming summer and fall semester, MN-based GYE participants will have the opportunity to take Southeast Asian language and cultural workshops through The SEAD Project, a resource supported by the program due to the cancellation of the travel experience.

Evaluation: Built into the essence of this program, reflection-based learning models were centered, prioritizing time in every youth session to reflect and check-in on the program learning and growth process. From the application, interview and onboarding process, we consider these elements of reflective evaluation for the youth and their experience, as well as a means to measure the effectiveness of the program.

During the last week of the program, youth also evaluated their experience of GYE program. All aspects of the program, from workshops and guest artists to facilitation, were ranked a 7 out of 10 or higher.

Resources you used:

  • General classroom supplies, specialty coloring and drawing tools, projector, etc
  • Planting SEADS: Southeast Asian Diaspora Stories edited by Chanida Phaengdara Potter, M.K Nguyen, Narate Keys
  • Zoom and Google Meet virtual platforms
  • Laptops and mobile phones
  • Google Classroom
  • Mia funds from Gale endowment
  • Part-time Project Liaison and Teen and Community Associate Staff Hours

Was this project budgeted? Were final costs within the projected budget?

The project was fully funded from Mia’s Gale endowment at a project budget of $110,000. This included program and travel costs. Approximately $45,000 was spent on nonrefundable travel cancelation fees, arts-based program and partner costs. Approximately $60,000 was not spent as these would have been travel and hosting related expenses.



What worked? Both the Minnesota and Vietnam-based youth were able to learn about each other’s culture and city based on student art exchanges. Even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and changes, youth were able to meet each other online through Zoom and share intimate conversations through individual breakout rooms. Youth were excited and energized to connect with each other, truly forming relationships in the virtual GYE sessions. In creating this virtual and international space, we took into account the 15-hour difference in time zones, from Minnesota to Vietnam. The RISS program leads were also very flexible and open-minded towards our program goals and schedules. Creating the cultural exchange would not have happened without them.

Every workshop was intentionally connected to the program themes. Throughout the program, we read and reflected on Planting SEADS: Southeast Asian Diaspora Stories. This was a great way to discuss Southeast Asian history and relate it to the youth participant’s lives. Many participants were Hmong identified, and joined the program because they wanted to be more attuned with their culture and heritage. It felt like this book and discussions challenged them to think critically, look inwardly, and feel more connected towards their people, history, and culture. Youth reflections on GYE program can be found here GYE Telling the Story.

Partnering with the SEAD project and Renaissance International School of Saigon (RISS) made the program possible. Without the expertise of the SEAD project, we could not have done the program justice. Without the partnership of RISS, we could not have truly built the peer exchange essence of the program. These partnerships will continue and we hope GYE is a seed planted that will lead to other projects and collaborations for our youth and community.

What didn’t work? Parts of GYE requirements in the application ended up being misleading for some interested youth, as the application did not specify that it was an opportunity for Twin Cities youth. Although it was advertised for youth ages 14 – 18, we had to turn away applicants who lived further than a 40 minute drive from Mia. The application should list these factors next time to respect the time of interested participants.

Not getting to travel was a big disappointment for all participants, especially after going through an extensive interview process and acquiring important travel documents within a short timeframe. The international travel component would have been a key element to the global & cultural exchange experience of the program. Although Minnesota-based and Vietnam-based participants were still able to meet virtually, it felt limiting. All youth did their best to cooperate as the trip cancellation was for everyone’s safety due to Covid-19. Crystal and Wennicha truly appreciated participants for their maturity, open-mindedness, and leadership.

GYE virtual sessions did not allow for physical and interactive components that many youth needed to build community, create art collectively, and focus. GYE virtual sessions ran on average 2 hours each session, shorter than the original timeframes. Virtual sessions were also information and discussion heavy. Solutions to consider for next time in going virtual is to have sessions lasting no more than 1.5 hours (or building in more breaks), have more small breakout room activities, and include engaging icebreakers that require the physical body to move.

What was surprising? COVID-19 came as a surprise to all. It spread quickly over the world and canceled our travel plans. The decision to pull back on traveling due to the outbreak was important for our youth and their safety,  the implications of social responsibility, as well as liability concerns.

Despite trips being cancelled, participants still wanted to be a part of and move forward with the program virtually. Crystal and Wennicha knew it was a huge change and expected a potential drop in participation. Not only did youth participants continue to meet virtually, they also had meaningful reflections, shared continued excitement about program themes & activities, as well as eagerness to meet their program peers in Vietnam. The virtual sessions with Minnesota and Vietnam-based youth were fun and exciting spaces for youth to connect with each other, make friends and inspire creative challenges. The GYE youth and leads had a strong connection, even amidst disappointment due to programmatic changes and the global pandemic. These factors actually made for an unexpected opportunity of cultural exchange and connection, as the youth and leads shared with each other their lived experiences and reflections regarding the global pandemic situation.

Global Youth Exchange Participants and their families.


At Mia: GYE brought young people of varying cultural backgrounds to Mia. Many of the GYE youth would not have discovered and engaged as much in the museum if it weren’t for the program. Toward the end of programming, youth verbalized that coming to Mia every other week (when there were still in-person gatherings) felt like a grand experience. Some expressed never coming to Minneapolis before and the program allowed them to experience the city. Many were awed by the museum and shared how healing it felt. With GYE, we were able to deepen youth and community relationships with the museum. The nature of the GYE, as an arts-based program held at Mia and at other arts centers in the Twin Cities, called in the expertise of Southeast Asian community partners and artists, from the program planning stage and throughout, which was necessary to do the program in a way that nurtures, honors and respects our youth and community members.

In the museum field: Collaborating with members and organizations from the Southeast Asian Diaspora community in Minnesota, was essential to this program. They were involved from the start to finish of the program. Southeast Asian community members, artists and storytellers were able to facilitate curriculum design, art-making, as well as share culture & stories authentically with the youth participants.

Group interviews were a great way to interview a larger pool of candidates and see how they show up when working in teams. Heavy international travel research was essential in knowing what important travel forms youth need to sign, and providing them in the beginning (perhaps during parent/guardian orientation) to minimize stress between youth and program leads. In this case, translators during parent/guardian meetings to translate were very important in being clear on program expectations, especially in creating accessibility. Ice breakers & team building activities were important to have as part of the program sessions, as they helped bring participants closer together and learn how to be vulnerable.

Public: With all the changes of 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard to imagine that we were planning to travel internationally with young people. Even as this may still be unthinkable, this program was deeply engaging and an overall profound experience for the youth and their adult leads. Some day we will be able to consider doing a program like this again, as we know the deep value of this kind of experiential learning for youth and their development, cultural understanding and global perspective.

Something deeply important as well, is not only the cultural exchange across international borders, but also the deepening of perspective and community with the local Southeast Asian Diaspora community. The GYE program brought together youth to expose, explore, and build confidence with the artist in them. As art-based storytelling was a huge component to GYE, it has inspired others to own and tell their stories through art and create healing.