- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2005

South Korean-born Youri Kim, 22, smiles a lot. But then, she has plenty to smile about. A graphic-design major at Hongik University in Seoul, she participates in a novel program run by the Washington-based International Center for Language Studies, a private school that brings early career professionals from abroad to work in area businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Miss Kim began March 1 at Giffords Ice Cream & Candy Co. and within days was creating new posters and signage for the company’s Bethesda retail store, as well as redesigning owner Neal Lieberman’s business card.

“We set her up on a computer and sort of said, ‘Here’s our new logo, color palette and the font we need to use,’ and went through probably a list of 100 things, asking her to take a shot at designing them,” Mr. Lieberman says, detailing the benefits of having an accomplished intern on hand.

“I think she is very talented. She has a great eye for design, which is a kind of cross-cultural thing. I tell her something, and she comes up with an idea. For instance, because we are serving round scoops of ice cream, she thought we should do something in a circular motion — something round and fun. It showed she was aware of what we do.”

Miss Kim’s enthusiasm is catching. She also has suggested how Ula Marshall, director of the program — titled International Exchange and Business Training, part of ICLS — might improve the organization’s basic brochure to make it easier to read.

Learning to read, write and speak English proficiently — with the added twist of learning the vocabulary of business — is a priority of IEBT, which developed the program in line with licensing procedures of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs. The bureau long has run an Exchange Visitor Program whose mission, in Mrs. Marshall’s words, “is to help the rest of the world understand how American people live, work, study and do business — all done at the grass-roots level.”

ICLS began in 1966 to promote language and cultural training services, which were so successful, she says, “they realized the need to move on [into] business exchange.” To date, IEBT (www.ICLS.com/IEBT/Index.htm), which began in 2002, has had 21 participants come through its rigorously screened program. Only 47 passed out of 150 applicants who signed recently for preliminary testing in Japan, Mrs. Marshall says. The “exchange” element refers to an intended exchange of knowledge between a host company or organization and an intern trainee.

By a careful selection of so-called foreign partners as well as American hosts, Mrs. Marshall hopes to make a positive contribution to the frequently misunderstood world of cross-cultural immersion. She has worked with partnering agencies — in one instance, a state university — in Japan, Korea, Romania and Cameroon and hopes to involve Argentina, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Thailand.

“The focus is empowering and strengthening the middle class in this country and abroad,” she says.

Successful candidates or their families, if not an institutional sponsor, pay all or most of the expense — English language training alone costs $3,000 — but they can accept small stipends under terms of their J-1 visas, she says. Mr. Lieberman, for instance, gives a token sum monthly to Miss Kim, but he is reluctant to name the amount. Participants, who usually stay for one year, find inexpensive housing, often sharing a room in a private home.

“I really changed here,” says Miss Kim, who rates herself as far more outgoing since she arrived last summer from her more tradition-bound homeland. (Initially, she worked for a local marketing firm after completing the required language course.) She has a Japanese housemate in a Wheaton home owned by a Jamaican family and takes Metro everywhere.

A young Japanese lawyer who arrived knowing no English and ended up working in trademark, copyright and patent law with the Washington firm of Piper Rudnick LLP is back home in a Japanese law firm “expanding Japanese-American business relations,” Mrs. Marshall reports.

Another current IEBT participant is Erika Sugiyama, 34, a lighting designer from Kyoto, Japan, who has a roommate with an Ethiopian background. Miss Sugiyama says she grew interested in the program as a result of her exposure to a traveling Hawaiian dance troupe.

While I’m doing theater lighting in Japan, I get [sic] more interested in educational theater, which we unfortunately don’t have a very good program [like this] in Japan. … Exchanging the two cultures and countries through performing arts is one of my dreams.”

She is ideally placed to realize that goal as an intern in the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theater, which presents informational entertainment for young people. The approach is entirely different from what she was doing in Kyoto.

“My field is traditional Japanese theater,” she says, only occasionally stumbling over English phrasing. “In those theaters, we have very strict systems that we have to follow. We are taught to look — not asking [questions] — to gain experience and knowledge by watching the masters.”

Through contacts gained on the job, and especially through Roberta Gasbarre, director of Discovery Theater, she also has worked at Kennedy Center and Carter Barron Amphitheatre, as well as for the recent Cherry Blossom Festival, and now she is in Los Angeles working with the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center on children’s programming.

“I felt the importance of performing arts education,” Miss Sugiyama says. “Our system of education for arts are [sic] very different from the American system. We have music class in elementary school but not field trips. We have opportunities for ballet and dance, but it is only for children who want to be professional. I will stay through the summer until November and will go back and share my knowledge. I would like to have a new approach to theater.”

Ms. Gasbarre says Miss Sugiyama has become more outgoing.

“When she first came to us, Erika was so shy about speaking at all, especially in a second language, or venturing any opinion,” Ms. Gasbarre says. “She has opened like a flower to her own possibilities and strengths.”

The theater always has sought to have interns, she says. “We want them because we want to reflect our audiences, who are local young people from all area jurisdictions more than tourists.”

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