The Lyre, Spring 2011 / Bridging the Cultural Gap
Bridging the Cultural Gap
Amid an international politically charged environment and civil unrest, bridging the cultural gap between the American people and the Arab world is an extraordinary goal that many would not aspire to achieve. Kathryn “Kathy” Fortune Hubbard, a 1971 initiate of the Alpha chapter DePauw University, however, has made it one of her life’s missions to not only provide a two-way cultural awareness, but break down and eradicate the misunderstandings that exist.
Raised in the college town of West Lafayette, Indiana, Kathy and her three siblings were greatly encouraged by their father in regards to international and cultural studies. Rightly then, following a high school interest in the French language, Kathy chose to further her studies when she began her freshman year at DePauw. As her siblings studied abroad in England, Greece and Japan, Kathy chose to spend her junior year oversees, studying at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. While there, she took it upon herself to spend as much time among the Swiss, rather than her American counterparts. Kathy truly wanted to immerse herself in experiencing the language, history and literature. Following her studies abroad, in 1974, Kathy graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French.
Kathy’s interest and concentration on foreign affairs increased as she took on her first employment after graduation—a position with the Indiana Department of Commerce, International Trade Division. In this position, she was able to interact with many companies overseas as she encouraged the exporting and importing of their products. Eventually, she was promoted to the position of Assistant Director and was able to travel to Europe to speak with company representatives in regards to their business opportunities in Indiana.
Where It Began
Kathy’s career has been well-rounded, having worked on several political campaigns—Vice President Dan Quayle, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush—and through her work with Hudson Institute where she was engaged in raising funds for their international and domestic policy research. By the early 90s, Kathy and her husband, Deputy Chief of Staff to Dan Quayle and future chairman of the President George W. Bush’s National Economic Council, were living in Washington D.C.
In 2006, while working on a project for the U.S. Department of State that related American and Arab businesswomen, Kathy met Karim Kawar, Jordan’s former ambassador to the US, and his wife, Luma. The couple shared with Kathy that they were well aware of the misunderstandings and curiosities between the American and Arab worlds—a view long since held by Kathy as well. The Kawars and the Hubbards began discussing and meeting in order to address the need for cultural awareness across the two very different worlds. The couples spoke to their political counterparts and this need of awareness was of much interest, particularly among women and those already seeking an understanding. Funds were raised, along with their own contributions, and the Bridges of Understanding Foundation was founded.
Today, Bridges of Understand—a non-partisan, non-profit, privately funded 501(c)3 organization—has implemented many projects, including:
- Sport 4 Peace, a program that brought three Iraqi coaches and 10 girls interested in improving their basketball skills and global knowledge to the U.S. for a two-week trip to Washington D.C. and Knoxville, Tennessee.
- Youth Talk, a collaboration with Global Nomads Group that facilitates videoconferences between U.S. and Arab high schools. In 2008, three US high schools and three Jordanian high schools participated. In 2009, the number grew to 12.
- Boston Children’s Chorus, a two-week cultural exchange tour that brought together youth from the U.S. and Jordan who love making music. They performed at local venues in Amman and in many rural towns in the Kingdom.
- Support for Heal the Rift, a one-day youth rally that recently took place at New York City’s Washington Square Park and generated a solidarity movement among moderate forces from both the U.S. and Arab worlds.
- Support for the Youth Initiative for Progress in Iraq, a conference designed to provide Iraqi and American youth with a voice and the tools necessary to progress toward a sustainable future between the two countries.
As the organization grows, annual trips to such places as Jordan, Dubai, Egypt and Abu Dhabi for travelers wanting to learn the customs and histories of the area have been organized as well. Through these trips, women of both American and Arab backgrounds have gained friendships, offering the great opportunities to directly learn from one another.
Beyond her cofounding of the Bridges of Understanding Foundation, Kathy has continued her work abroad, concentrating on bridging the cultural gaps and promoting the importance of studying abroad. Kathy states that “we have stereotypes, just as they do.” Through her ongoing efforts, she encourages all to develop an open mind and interest in other cultures in order to tear down these misconceptions. Kathy works alongside international dignitaries and supporters of a greater U.S. and Arab relationship.
Stateside, she has stayed very involved by serving on the Board of Trustees at DePauw University and on many other education and arts-related boards. In 2006, Kathy was appointed to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board by President George W. Bush—the U.S. government’s international educational exchange program. And venturing back into the for-profit world, Kathy and her husband have recently gained the majority shares of Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, based in Denver, Colorado.
Kathy and her husband, Al Hubbard, reside in Indianapolis, Indiana. They have three children: Will, Katie and Sara. For more information on Bridges of Understanding, visit bridgesofunderstanding.org. For more information on Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, visit udisglutenfree.com.