June 24, 2009

SIUC to host 20 Southeast Asian undergraduates

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- In an effort to foster greater understanding across cultures, 20 of Southeast Asia’s most promising undergraduate students will be in Southern Illinois for the next five weeks to learn about our political system and study our way of life.

The “Summer 2009 Study of the United States Institute for Southeast Asian Undergraduate Student Leaders” focuses on providing the students a more accurate picture of American history, democracy and culture, said John L. Foster, associate professor and distinguished teacher in political science and institute director. The five-week program begins Sunday, June 28, and runs through Aug. 2.

The 20 students from Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia and Vietnam will participate in classroom activities and lectures featuring University officials including SIU President Glenn Poshard on leadership, and faculty from the Department of Political Science, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, and other departments on campus.

Media Advisory

Reporters, camera crews and photographers may cover some of the activities listed on the schedule during the students’ stay in Carbondale. Students may also be available for interviews. The schedule and program overview are available at http://institute.siuc.edu/. For more information and to arrange interviews, contact John L. Foster, associate professor in the political science department and institute director, at 618/453-3175, 618/549-7760, or at jlfoster@siu.edu.

Several tours will augment what students learn in the classroom, including trips to St. Louis, Chicago, Springfield, and Washington, D.C. There are also numerous cultural visits, including an overnight stay with members of the Saline County University Women and their families, the historic Dietz farm near De Soto, the Kaskaskia Island Fourth of July celebration, and a tour of Carbondale city government municipal operations.

This is an opportunity for the region to show international students America, Foster said. Foster and John S. Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, both said the picture of America that many students likely have is not an accurate portrayal, and is based on popular media in their own countries.

“This will be their main picture of the United States when they go home,” Foster said. “Their view of America is going to be heavily driven by what they see in Southern Illinois.”

The view, however, will not be sugar-coated, Foster said.

“We try to show them our country, warts and all,” he said.

The University is one of seven host institutions this year. The Branch for the Study of the United States in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the institute.

This is the 13th institute SIUC has hosted, dating back to the mid-1990s. Jackson, then dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and Harry Haynesworth, former SIU School of Law dean, learned the U.S. Department of State was offering the summer institutes.

Already looking for a project to collaborate on, they put together an application and received a grant to host international faculty members. In 2003, the focus switched to students, with the first group being 21 Iraqi students a few months after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Jackson estimates more than 250 students and faculty have participated in SIUC’s program. There are many graduates around the world who have spent summers in Carbondale, “which is a neat thing to think about,” Jackson said. He regularly receives e-mails from several former institute participants.

The State Department and the U.S. Embassy in the students’ home countries select participants based on a student’s leadership qualities and potential, Jackson said.

“This is exactly what the State Department needs to be doing in terms of fostering better understanding across cultures,” Jackson said.

The State Department supplies the grant under the Fulbright-Hays Act, and as part of the Fulbright Program. The Fulbright program was the creation of then-freshman U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas as a way to promote “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries,” according to the organization.

Jackson was 21 when he worked on Fulbright’s staff in 1963, just after graduating from college and before going into the U.S. Army. This program is something Fulbright would be proud of, Jackson said.

The Fulbright program was “originally premised on the idea that if you had educational, cultural and athletic exchanges people would get to know that people halfway around the world are just folks and have the dreams and aspirations that we all share and it’s a little harder to demonize them at that point,” Jackson said.