Exchange in Chicago: Fellows Included

Inclusion and diversity in play — who are the heroes of exchange programs?

Every exchange starts with a simple proposal: to have an individual or group go to a different place and be received there by somebody.

Despite this simplicity, it can be difficult finding the organization or individual that’s willing to put in the time and effort of having a virtual stranger join their team and impact their business. However, this blog is dedicated to those incredible hosts that have opened their business, office and life to professional exchange fellows.

My professional hosts and I on my very first day at Holistic Index

Brief summary: I, along with 14 other individuals from the Balkans, have been accepted into the fall 2018 Professional Fellows Exchange, and an organization called World Chicago has brought us to (surprisingly) Chicago. We have been assigned home-stay hosts and professional hosts, and our first week is underway. There’s actually 3 blogs I’ve already written about this — the process, the journey and the first impressions of the city.

I consider myself to be incredibly lucky with my choice of professional host. My interests are in entrepreneurship, networking, B2B and content creation (I actually write these blogs myself, believe it or not), so I felt giddy with happiness when I was told that I was going to be hosted by the legendary Tom Alexander in his new venture, Holistic Index.

First of all, the office is in Novel Coworking, which means that I have Sears (or Willis) Tower on my front step. If I get lost at lunch (and I do, every day), all I need to do is look up and navigate towards the tall building.

The Tower as seen on my way to work

Secondly, the company is all about inclusion. Now, inclusion is a term that only came to Bosnia and Herzegovina a few years ago, mostly to force the old-boys’-club to hire more women in managerial positions. In Holistic, however, inclusion is a way of life.

The team is diverse (now featuring me, as well), the atmosphere is friendly — I was at work for a grand total of 3 minutes before I felt like one of the group. A lot of this is an indicator of good communication, but the free beer in the open-space kitchen upstairs is also helpful.

Kidding, kidding! My mom reads this blog, I don’t want her thinking that I’m a raging alcoholic. There is free beer, though. I just don’t combine it with work (kudos to those who do, though).

My work here, while I’m on exchange, is going to be a mix of things. The end goal is understanding the managerial minutiae that make up the lives of product managers, but it’s so much more than that.

Holistic Index is going to be publishing a series of interviews and podcasts. The interviews will be with various organization and business founders and owners, talking about their challenges and companies. The podcasts, entitled “Age of Inclusion”, will be on handling and promoting inclusion, guest-starring people with inspirational and unique points of view on the matter.

For all my fans out there — good news! I’m going to be hosting one of the podcasts myself, and I tend to break into song when in charge. I’m not saying I will sing — I’m just warning I might.

My fellow fellows (haha, I’m funny) have all been placed in cool organizations. Their work here will range from chemical research and event management, to political campaigning and business development. We text and exchange experiences and tips every day — and I’m very pleased to say that our hosts seem to be as happy to have us as we are happy to join them.

Some of the fellows and one random alumni attending Chicago Ideas Week

We are foreigners. We are strangers to almost everybody we meet, we come from countries most people couldn’t point out on a map, we are constantly flabbergasted about things like free refills and people’s openness on matters of politics.

Yet, thanks to these amazing organizations like Holistic Index, we feel accepted. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that our hosts deserve a lot more recognition — not just from us fellows and our organizers at World Chicago, but from other members of the Chicago business ecosystem as well.