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For Bridging Cultural Gaps, coding is only the start of the journey

Looking at the Expedia headquarters, one word came to mind: stark. Expedia’s vast green fields contrasted with the vast amounts of glass and steel that made up the building. Students in Bridging Cultural Gaps’ Hidden Genius program aren’t here to study architecture and spacing, though – they’re here to learn more about what Expedia is and what it has to do with coding. 

For Bridging Cultural Gaps program manager Abdi Haro, he hopes the students can connect the dots between this field trip and the real world. In an interview after the trip, Abdi said the benefit of the trip was for the young people to see that what they were learning in the classroom “has real-world application.” 

This is at the core of the Hidden Genius program, which Bridging Cultural Gaps offers thanks to funding from School’s Out Washington’s Afghan Refugee School Impact (ARSI) program. Funded through School’s Out Washington’s Afghan Refugee School Impact (ARSI) program, Hidden Genius—one of Bridging Cultural Gaps’ programs—is a six-week cohort that teaches Afghan refugee students the basics of coding languages and how to use operating systems like Mac OS and Windows. 

For Murtaza, who recently completed the program, learning those technical skills proved to be inspiring. “I didn’t know about coding,” said Murtaza in a separate interview after the trip. “It was a good experience.” 

These are the feelings Abdi said he wants students to have. His goal is to expose young people to coding. “It’s really to allow students to broaden their worldview, get access to different fields and topics so they can make informed choices,” said Abdi. “Once they go to college, and they know…there’s this thing called coding [and] can go into if [they’re] interested.” 

There’s another benefit to Hidden Genius for students: belonging. “I met nice people, like the teacher, my Afghan friends, and the supporters,” said Murtaza. He also said it was fun because his teacher spoke Dari, his first language. This allowed Murtaza to understand the concepts.

AliAhmad was in awe that a teacher who looked like him knew coding. AliAhmad said he “was surprised!” 

Instilling this sense of belonging isn’t lost on Abdi, who recognizes these students have common lived experiences. “Depending on the exact situation they came from, because you’re in such a tough situation, you don’t have time to make sense of everything around you,” said Abdi. “I struggled with that, and some of my friends [struggled with that].” 

The students on the trip were a combination of those new to Hidden Genius and those who completed it. Each student received the same tour—they saw the massive lobby area, walked through countless workstations and offices, and even grabbed some snacks and drinks along the way. 

As for whether students connected the dots between Expedia and Hidden Genius, patience is a virtue. At first, one of the students asked, “Why are we here? Why are we coming to Expedia?” As the tour continued, an Expedia employee was working on code on a screen, and the same student said, “Wow! That’s what we were doing!” 

After the tour finished, when asked if they would like to work at Expedia, they said, “No, I can build my own Expedia.” This answer surprised Abdi but pointed to Hidden Genius as more than learning to code. “We’re really focused, but I always tell students in the beginning of the cohort that this is not to push you into a certain field,” said Abdi. “Not everybody is interested in [coding]. Just having [the] knowledge and connecting the dots.”


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