The Experiment staff have extensive experience developing and managing international youth exchanges. They have expertise in international education, safety and risk management, youth development, virtual exchange, and program management, among others.

Christina Thomas

Divisional Vice President, Youth Exchange

Christina Thomas is the Divisional Vice President for Youth Exchanges at World Learning, which includes World Learning’s flagship program, the Experiment in International Living. The Exchange portfolio serves 2000 in-person and virtual high school age US and international students and adult educators and hires up to 150 program leaders annually. At the Experiment, Christina oversees the Experiment virtual exchange programs, the Experiment Abroad’s scholarship portfolio, program operations, and participant risk management.

Christina also serves as the Board President of the Federation EIL providing member support in strategic planning, capacity building, and quality assurance. The Federation is a nonprofit association representing a global network of international educational program providers supporting 12 members around the globe who offer programs in volunteerism, group travel, language training, and study abroad.

Before joining World Learning in 2003, Christina taught English to junior and senior high school students and designed teacher training programs for Japanese English teachers on the Japan Teaching and Exchange Program (JET) for three years. Christina received her master's degree in international communications from the School of International Service with an emphasis on international education and management from American University in Washington, DC.

Heather Beard

Director of Enrollment Management & Partnerships, Youth Exchanges

Heather Beard is an international education professional with two decades of admissions and business development experience in higher education and the non-profit sector. Heather joined World Learning in 2010 as an admissions officer for the School for International Training. In 2013, Heather transitioned to associate director of admissions for The Experiment in International Living and was promoted to director of admissions in 2015. As director of enrollment management and partnerships for World Learning Youth Exchanges, Heather now manages enrollment for not only The Experiment and The Experiment Digital but also USG-funded youth programs including the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), Youth Ambassadors, and Jóvenes en Acción. Before joining World Learning, Heather served in admissions and administrative roles for The Putney School and the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College. Heather earned a bachelor’s. in writing and literature from Emerson College and an master’s in fine arts. in studio art and critical theory from the Maine College of Art.

Heather has studied abroad throughout Europe and traveled to Costa Rica and Argentina. She enjoys spending time with her family and supporting her community in southern Vermont, as well as photography, running, and hiking.

• MFA, Maine College of Art
• BA, Emerson College

Kirstin French-Kray

Director of Operations and Youth Programming

Kirstin is a youth program professional who specializes in program logistics, staff training, and risk management. Kirstin has been managing international youth programs at World Learning since December 2011 and joined The Experiment in 2015. Prior to World Learning, Kirstin worked as a Program Manager for US-based youth programs focusing on service learning and social justice in the Central Appalachian Region. Kirstin earned a B.A. in Sociology and Africana Studies from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and an M.A. in Conflict Transformation & Youth Program Leadership from SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Kristen Dowling

Operations Manager for Youth Exchange

As the Operations Manager for Youth Exchange, Kristen focuses on logistical, financial, staffing, and risk management planning for World Learning’s youth exchanges. She is a program operations professional with over 13 years of experience in non-profit and small business administration, managing event and travel logistics and back end support for international and domestic travel programs. Kristen currently manages the Operations team’s work hiring and supervising temporary staff, coordinating travel, and managing relationships with program partners. She received her BA in Mass Communication and Spanish Language from Boston University and is an alum of the International Honors Program. Kristen has worked for The Experiment in International Living and World Learning Youth Programs since 2016 and enjoys cooking, paddling, scuba diving, and skiing in her free time.

• MA, American University’s School of International Service

Anna Gail Caunca

Senior Program Officer

Anna Gail holds a BS in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MA in intercultural service, leadership, and management from SIT Graduate Institute. She also received her licensure in secondary education (social studies), incorporating social justice in the classroom. Anna Gail is currently a doctoral student in Global Education at SIT Graduate Institute.

Anna Gail has over ten years of experience working with youth and young adults as a volunteer manager, educator, residential life director, and traveling group facilitator. Building on her graduate studies in social justice and international education, Anna Gail worked with World Learning’s Youth Leadership and Peacebuilding Programs, facilitating workshops on current issues and youth activism with the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont and traveling with and supporting students through the LondonX and Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program for two years. In 2013, she was the Trustees’ Fellow for the inaugural year of the IHP: Human Rights program. From 2010 to 2015, she lived in Wellington, New Zealand, where she worked in residential life at Victoria University of Wellington and supported human rights education with the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand. From 2015 to 2021, Anna Gail was the Program Manager for IHP where she worked with in-country partners and traveling faculty to run semester-long global comparative programs centered on social justice, for undergraduate students.

Jamal Washington

Program Officer

Jamal brings seven years of full-cycle project management experience, including the oversight of high school, undergraduate, and adult education programs and exchanges on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, USAID, U.S. Embassies, and private donors. Prior to joining the Experiment team, Jamal served as the Program Officer for the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program for Undergraduates (IYLEP UG). Currently, he manages the Alumni Fellowship Program, in partnership with the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute. An energetic community builder, Jamal approaches his work with the goal of highlighting how deeply intertwined cultural understanding is with our worldview. Jamal received his bachelor’s degree in international business from Towson University. During his time there, Jamal had the opportunity to study abroad in Guatemala, where he gained proficiency in Spanish. Outside of this role, Jamal is also a certified personal trainer and enjoys helping individuals of all physical backgrounds reach their wellness and fitness goals.

Christina Wagner

Digital Program Officer

Christina Wagner has bachelor and master’s degrees in English from Cleveland State University. She specializes in grant oversight, program management, social-emotional learning, financial literacy, college and career readiness, and community and guardian engagement. Christina also teaches college English and enjoys helping students become better writers. She has completed Project Management training, Inclusive Teaching training from The Ohio State University, and has a certificate from Quality Matters (QM) on Improving Your Online Course. She is currently the Digital Program Officer for The Experiment Digital which is a 6-week virtual exchange program connecting high school students in the United States, Middle East, and North Africa. Christina’s passion exists in program development, training, and course accessibility.

Angelina Freeman

Program Coordinator

Angelina joined the World Learning team as a Program Coordinator for The Experiment Digital in fall 2023 in anticipation of her graduation from American University with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. She has previously served as a Peer Mentor, Facilitator and Intern with The Experiment Digital. Angelina is passionate about connecting young people through citizen diplomacy and exchange. She is excited to re-join the team and continue her journey with World Learning and international education.

Zufan Hagos

People Operations Officer

Zufan Hagos holds a BS in Secondary Education and Spanish from the University of Vermont and an MA in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute. She brings over 15 years of professional experience in education and study abroad leadership. She joined World Learning in 2017, where her work has focused on program management, student affairs, and people operations. Prior to World Learning, Zufan worked with several education abroad organizations designing, managing, and facilitating middle, secondary, and college-level programs in Central and South America, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.

Julia Knecht

People Operations Coordinator

Julia Knecht has been involved with The Experiment since 2015 as a Group Leader to Thailand, Operations Associate, and Application Reviewer. Prior to joining The Experiment team, she spent several years living in Vanuatu working at a non-governmental organization, and an international school. Julia received her BA in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Women and Gender Studies from Wells College. She first discovered her love of youth exchange during a year-long exchange program to India, and since then has lived in Belize, Thailand, Vanuatu, and the Netherlands.

Angie Afriyie

Partnership Coordinator

Angie Afriyie serves as Partnership Coordinator for The Experiment and The Experiment Digital programs. Angie brings five years of work experience at St. Anne Institute in Albany, NY, serving roles from Street Outreach Program Coordinator and case manager to Teaching Assistant. Angie also has teaching experience at Albany High School and Bethlehem High School. Additionally, Angie worked as a Camp Counselor for Liberty Partnership Rising Stars Program and Program Assistant for the Boys & Girls Club of Albany. Angie received her MS in Secondary Education with a Concentration in Social Studies from the University at Albany – State University of New York, and her BA in History from University at Albany – State University of New York. Angie is originally from Ghana and immigrated with her family to the Bronx, New York City, when she was young.

Jackie Troschinetz

Senior Admissions Officer

Jackie holds a BA in Integrative Physiology and Psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. A lifelong learner, whose love of learning spreads to those around her, Jackie has worked in experiential and hands-on education for nearly a decade. Most recently and for the past 3 years, Jackie has worked in the HR sector in a recruiting role and served as an Experiment Group Leader to Jordan as well as a current digital facilitator. From teaching music to teenagers, art to children, and early childhood special education, she is passionate about developing people and opening minds. Jackie's passion for travel-based learning started with a summer immersion program in Ghana. With a degree in physiology and psychology and years of counseling volunteer work, she is knowledgeable about youth development, providing emotional support, and encouraging being authentically human. Other work experiences include working for a Kenyan company focusing on humanitarian aid and international development research with clients such as USAID, UNICEF, Heifer, and the World Bank. Jackie is a juggler of interests and passions, but the thread that runs through it all is her love for connecting and building warm relationships with people of all backgrounds.

Group Leaders

Our group leaders and digital facilitators are Experimenters’ number one resource.  We seek educators who represent our diverse student body and who are skilled in creating inclusive group environments for their participants.

Our group leaders are dedicated to youth development and are passionate about working directly with young people. The Experiment’s group leaders:

  • Are professional, flexible, resilient, resourceful, pro-active, caring, warm, friendly, and love to laugh
  • Genuinely enjoy spending time with high school students
  • Have strong organizational and logistical skills, and are able to manage a budget
  • Are willing to put their participants’ learning and development ahead of their own experience.
  • Are ready for an intense, challenging, and rewarding summer.
  • Demonstrate skills and experience in cross-cultural sensitivity and communication.
  • Bring a wide variety of backgrounds and social identities.
  • Are aware of and committed to addressing bias, systemic inequalities, power, privilege, and oppression.
  • Are, above all, educators and facilitators.

Programs Abroad—Ongoing Support from Start to Finish

Experiment groups abroad are accompanied by two carefully selected and trained adult leaders who work collaboratively with in-country partners and The Experiment’s offices in the United States. Throughout the program, leaders work with Experimenters to increase their knowledge of the country and culture, develop communication skills, and cultivate new attitudes and awareness.

Group leaders keep in close contact with Experimenters and their homestay families, conduct group excursions, and guide Experimenters through the learning process via discussions, activities, and reflections. At the end of the program, leaders help Experimenters evaluate their experiences and consider how they can integrate what they learned about themselves, their identities, and the world into their lives at home.

Leaders have extensive experience with youth education, travel logistics and management know-how, health, safety, and risk management and are ready to spend a month living and learning with their participants. They are responsible professionals who have local expertise in the country or region of their program, language abilities, and knowledge of their program theme. Experiment co-leaders and staff complement one another and provide comprehensive support to all members of their groups.

Group leaders go through a rigorous selection process. In 2019, The Experiment accepted only 27% of group leader applicants. The process includes a comprehensive application review, several stages of interviews with the People Operations Team, and thorough screening and background check.  Many of our leaders are teachers and professionals with bachelor’s and often a master’s degree, former Peace Corps volunteers, and distinguished scholars (Fulbright, Rhodes, Truman, etc.).

Group Leader Training

At The Experiment, we value our group leaders as professionals in their fields. We utilize the skills they bring while making sure to provide development and support in the areas needed to be successful leaders of our programs.

Before our programs, group leaders attend intensive, in-person training on the School for International Training (SIT) campus in Vermont. Leaders get in-depth, interactive training on a range of topics relating to the broad areas of youth, education, logistics, and health and safety. Sessions cover issues including adolescent psychology, mental and physical health, youth development, diversity and inclusion, behavior management, curriculum development and delivery, and experiential education techniques. Learn more about becoming a group leader.

“Not only do I come away feeling prepared, supported, and nourished as a facilitator, but I feel like I want to bring ANYONE in a leadership position (corporate, nonprofit, or even people planning to become parents) to this training. Too often, ‘leader’ is a title that reflects salary but not equity or ability. The Experiment training provides the tools to excel in every aspect of leadership.”

– Jen Fowler, Leader to the United Kingdom, Argentina, and Japan

Featured Group Leaders

Cassidy Beckford Moore

Group Leader

A native of Northern New Jersey, Cassidy earned her Bachelors in Communications and Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, with a concentration in history and linguistics. During her time in undergrad, Cassidy spent a summer term in South Africa as a Vira I. Heinz scholar, participating in a program focused on community building in schools. She later went overseas to teach and coach in Shenzhen, China, where she became a certified TEFL instructor. In 2017, Cassidy earned her Masters in International Education with a focus in social justice education and youth development at SIT Graduate Institute before transitioning into a position working with students with special needs. Currently, she works as Social Studies instructor at a charter school focused on environmental sciences and preservation as well as coaching basketball and volleyball. Cassidy has worked with The Experiment, The Experiment Digital, and World Learning Youth Programs.

Ericka Pérez (they/them)

Group Leader

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the Bronx, NY, Ericka Pérez is a 2017 Experiment alum. They received their bachelor’s in Africana Studies with a concentration in Diaspora Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2022. As a freshman, Ericka traveled to Iceland for research in environmental studies and interned at a bilingual school in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, as a college admissions counselor. Throughout their undergraduate studies, Ericka continued to immerse themselves in the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture, writing for a podcast on Anti-Racism in Rio’s Favelas, composing their graduation capstone on the racial politics of Brazilian Funk, and going on to win a Fulbright ETA Award to Brazil. Since then, Ericka has returned to their hometown to teach high school and perform stand-up.

Luis Campos

Group Leader

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Luis Campos spent his childhood traveling across Mexico, the U.S., and Puerto Rico. Luis’ taste for adventure grew at Brown University. Here, he divided his time getting his degree in Classical Studies, playing rugby, traveling the world conducting research for his honors thesis, and volunteering as an ESOL teacher, a wrestling coach, and an editor. His investigation of combat sports earned him six fellowships and research awards and led him on an international journey to Greece, Italy, Argentina, and Mexico. Luis also traveled to Israel, Palestine, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay on volunteer projects and to Spain and Andorra, leading a Spanish learning program. After graduating in 2014, Luis joined the Peace Corps and served as an English teacher in Mongolia. Following his service, Luis received a Fulbright Fellowship in 2016, expanding his research on combat sports in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2017 and 2018, Luis returned to Mongolia as a leader for The Experiment. Since 2019, Luis has been living in China, working as a consultant and completing a Master’s in Public Administration at Shanghai Jiaotong University. In his free time, Luis likes to design clothes, write articles, and plan his future adventures.

Bekah Rocak

Group Leader

As a Chinese Adoptee raised in Oregon, Bekah has always valued empathy and communicating our perspectives of lived experiences. Recently graduated, Bekah now holds a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies from Oregon State University where she hopes to encourage others to educate themselves and help advocate for others. During her undergraduate studies, Bekah worked at her university’s Asian & Pacific Cultural Center as a Leadership Liason focusing her work on Diversity & Cultural Engagement. Additionally, Bekah participated in an IE3 Global year-long study abroad program in Seoul, South Korea, at Yonsei University and was awarded a scholarship from the Freeman Asia Foundation to help pursue her studies in cross-cultural and global relationships. A strong advocate for community building, welcoming diversity, discovering identity, and promoting self-reflection, Bekah strives to create safe spaces for folks to be vulnerable in their learning and sharing. Outside of school and work, Bekah loves spending her free time with her loved ones, listening to music, journaling, hiking, and playing with her dog.

Salena Araya

Group Leader

Salena Araya is first-generation Ethiopian-Eritrean American born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. With the influence of her East African upbringing, Salena naturally connected and leaned towards meeting people from different backgrounds and learning the history/practices of other cultures. What better way to understand and become a globally culturally humble individual than with experiential learning? Salena spent a semester abroad in Monteverde and San Jose, Costa Rica, studying Spanish and living on una finca de cafe (coffee farm). In addition to traveling as a student, Salena spent some time in Mexico City and Chiapas, Mexico, Sweden, and Eritrea. She holds her Bachelor’s degree in public health with a minor in Spanish. Her background consists of sexual health education, global health, and building capacity for youth-led and -centered work. As Salena took on many roles, from interning with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to working in program development advocating for youth leadership, she found her path in youth capacity building with global health organizations. This is what led her to work with the World Learning Program as a program leader for Jovenes en Acción, Youth Ambassadors Argentina and Chile, Youth Ambassadors Brazil, and most recently The Experiment in Ghana.

Nate Harding

Group Leader

Nate’s life is guided by the following question: How will we evolve our norms, laws, and institutions such that all people define and achieve their own flourishing while living in balance with each other and the planet? This inquiry led them to design a Bachelor's degree in Education & Community Studies at Davidson College. After completing the degree, Nate traveled the globe as a high school study abroad program leader, where they designed, facilitated, and evaluated community-based experiential learning programs. Nate went on to serve as a consultant and coach at The Bridgespan Group, where they advised nonprofits and philanthropies to clarify their intended impact, improve operating models, strengthen executive teams, and lead organizational change. Nate currently serves as Senior Manager at Social Impact Exchange, where they support a multi-sector network of ~6,000 leaders to co-design, co-fund, and implement initiatives to transform society’s systems toward equity and justice. Nate also serves as a Board Member at Nourish International, fusing passions for youth leadership, organizational development, and systems thinking to support college students driving positive social change across the U.S. When not galivanting around the globe, you can find Nate enjoying the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, California.

Vanessa Wyns

Group Leader

Vanessa Wyns is a returning leader who has twice led the Spanish Language and Culture program in 2022 and 2019. She studied abroad in Peru in high school and later spent a semester in Madrid while earning her dual B.A. in Spanish Language and Studio Art from Baylor’s University Scholars Program. After graduating, she spent two years teaching art and science at a bilingual primary school in Granada and later returned to Spain to be an instructor at a youth eco-camp in the northern Basque Country. Now an Education Director for an urban forestry nonprofit, Vanessa has spent the past decade trying to increase equitable access to, knowledge about, and respect for the world’s environmental gifts and cultural diversity. Her deep interest in how people relate to the environment led her to obtain an M.S. in Ethnobotany, an interdisciplinary study rooted in anthropology that focuses on the traditional knowledge of regional plants and their uses. Traveling is one of Vanessa’s great joys, and she’s had the great fortune to visit, work, or study in over 40 countries.

Adria Buncal

Group Leader

Adria’s journey into the world of international exchange began when she was a child, as her family hosted exchange students in their home, sparking her interest in global connections. Her passion for Japanese culture led her to study abroad in high school, a life-changing experience that motivated her to delve deeper into various cultures, resulting in pursuing a major in East Asian Studies and Japanese at Western Washington University. While studying in Tokyo, she found immense joy in connecting with Japanese and international students, appreciating their diverse backgrounds. Adria’s international experiences expanded when she led for The Experiment to Japan in 2008 and 2023 and later served as an international student and scholar advisor, introducing American culture to incoming international students. She continued her educational journey with a master’s degree in College Student Services Administration, specializing in international education, at Oregon State University. In her free time, she actively volunteers with a multicultural center, hosts exchange students, and explores the world through travel.

The Experiment Digital—Fostering Connection Across Borders

Throughout the virtual exchange, students will be directly supervised by professional facilitators, including some alumni and former peer mentors, who have experience with cultural exchange and undergo an intensive month-long training on online facilitation. Although The Experiment Digital boasts a huge number of participants, it fosters an intimate feel for learning, which allows small group conversation and meaningful engagement. Participants attend interactive webinars featuring guest speakers, with small breakout sessions led by facilitators or peer mentors. In dialogue groups, there’s one facilitator for every five to eight students, with a safe space to share their hopes and fears and discuss often challenging topics such as gender norms and stereotypes. Facilitators initiate icebreakers, jumpstart conversation, ask debrief questions, and mediate conflict. Facilitators also help guide participants through the process of developing a community service project.

Digital facilitators:

  • Create and maintain a positive and inclusive digital learning community.
  • Coach participants on behavioral challenges within the program community and mediate disagreements and conflicts.
  • Assist participants in troubleshooting technology issues to ensure program engagement.
  • Provide encouragement and support to keep participants engaged in the program activities.
  • Support participants with plans for their project implementation.

Our digital facilitators monitor all interactions on the online platform. If anything of concern arises, they follow a strict risk management protocol through the proper channels to inform full-time staff at The Experiment Digital, who are reachable 24/7. Learn more about becoming a digital facilitator.

“This whole summer has been an amazing opportunity to get to know teens from all over the world. I feel really inspired by their spirit, and I feel like my mind has been opened by their perspectives and worldviews. I really can’t think of a better way to have spent this summer than meeting and working with these fantastic participants.”

– Caroline, 2020 Digital Facilitator