What do 10 male students from D.C. and about 100 others from Croatia and nearby European countries have in common? A weeklong international youth camp created to hopefully change their lives.

The 10 D.C. students, or “D.C.’s newest cultural ambassadors,” as District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson describes them, have been selected to travel to Zagreb, Croatia for a dance program that focuses on the tradition of stepping. Announced March 30 in the Mini United Nations Room on the Columbia Heights Education Campus (Ward 1), the program has been made possible through an innovative partnership between DCPS, StepAfrika!, and the U.S. Embassy.

StepAfrika! is the first professional dance company dedicated to the tradition of stepping, and the nation’s leading African-American dance company. While StepAfrika!’s International Youth Exchange program is in its third year, this year’s partnership extends the opportunity to United States students for the first time. After completing the program, students will perform a choreographed step based on their instruction and experiences overseas at the dance company’s 20th anniversary home performance series June 4-7 at Howard University.

“Step Afrika! opened the world’s eyes to the beauty and power of step, and I know this new partnership will do the same and more for our DCPS student cultural ambassadors,” said Chancellor Henderson in a press release. “I am incredibly proud of the 10 young men embarking on this special journey. I am confident they will remember this experience forever. It is through these experiences and expanded perspectives that our young people are propelled toward college and global careers.”

Selected students come from six DCPS high schools. They were first nominated by their principals, and then had to complete a competitive process including an essay assignment describing their dedication to academic excellence and interest in international travel and discovery. Each student has a GPA of 3.0 or higher and is currently in their junior year.

On their way to Croatia next month are: Victor Alleyne, Banneker High School (Ward 1); Triston Henry, Cardozo High School (Ward 1); Khyle Hightower, Columbia Heights Education Campus (Ward 1); Merhawi Huwarshek, Cardozo High School (Ward 1); Terrence Jackson, Eastern High School (Ward 6); Parris Kennedy, Anacostia High School (Ward 8); Matt Lopez, Columbia Heights Education Campus (Ward 1); Donald Morgan III, School Without Walls High School (Ward 2); Christopher Tate, School Without Walls High School (Ward 2); and Ahmad Woodard, Anacostia High School (Ward 8).

Studies have shown that using alternative ways to educate students outside of the classroom, such as studying abroad (and physical activity) can be very beneficial. This program incorporates both. Researchers have found that international study can make students more creative, and the Guardian states that learning a new language may even grow your brain.

The new cultural program reflects D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign promises (and budget allocations) to strengthen DCPS schools, and aligns with her most recent initiative, Empowering Males of Color. All expenses for the program will be paid by DCPS. Other opportunities for D.C. students to travel abroad are also in the works through DCPS and the D.C. Public Education Fund, an independent nonprofit formed to support the numerous strategic initiatives in DCPS through private funding.