June 21, 2013

University to host 20 Southeast Asian students

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will host 20 of Southeast Asia’s most promising undergraduate students for the next four weeks to study our political system and gain a better understanding of the United States and our way of life.

Students from Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma) and Nepal will visit Southern Illinois as part of the “Study of the U.S. Institute on Government and Public Policy for Student Leaders.”  The initiative is part of a broader U.S. Department of State program designed to promote a better understanding of the U.S. abroad and to help develop future world leaders.

The 20 students will participate in a variety of classroom activities and lectures featuring University officials including President Glenn Poshard, who will discuss leadership.  The students will also sit in on classes and gain insight from faculty in the political science, history, economics, philosophy, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and the SIU School of Law.

The SIU Carbondale program will cover a range of subjects necessary to understand the functioning of American government, politics and policy.  The American studies topics will include democracy, political culture, demographic diversity, the creation of a civil society built on an extensive network of non-profit organizations, the U.S. Constitutional framework and the Rule of Law, leadership techniques within a democratic system, and the position of the U.S. within the global economy.  Public policy topics of particular interest are education, public finance and the Rule of Law.

In addition, students will also tour Carbondale city government municipal operations, attend a minor league baseball game, a Sunset Concert on the SIU campus, spend a weekend with families in the Chester area, and participate in the Kaskaskia Island Fourth of July celebration. 

The students will also take cultural trips to St. Louis and Springfield, and spend another two weeks in Washington, D.C., visiting various units of the federal government and a wide variety of historical and cultural attractions.”

This is the 15th institute the University has hosted dating back to mid-1990s, said John S. Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.  The initiative initially began with hosting international faculty members, with the focus switching in 2003 to students.  Jackson estimates more than 290 students and faculty have participated in SIU’s program.  Jackson, John L. Foster with the Department of Political Science, and Barb Brown, a statewide political party leader, are spearheading this year’s visit.

“These young people have been identified by their universities and the State Department as future leaders in their country,” Jackson said.  “We feel it is important for people who will hold important positions to understand the United States in a personal way that they will not understand if they do not come and see for themselves.”

Jackson said that visiting local government officials and seeing first-hand the work and services they provide residents is an eye-opening experience.  Students from other countries often believe what they see from American television and movies and do not understand the depiction is now a very good sample of what the United States and its citizens are about, Jackson said.

“They find that while the cultures might be different we are also ordinary people trying to deal with the same kinds of challenges they are also trying to deal with,” he said.

The Study of U.S. Institutes are designed and funded by the Study of the U.S. Branch in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).  Study of the U.S. Institute participants are among over 40,000 individuals participating in U.S. Department of State exchange programs each year.  For more than 60 years, ECA has funded and supported programs that seek to promote mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and people of other countries.  Other ECA programs include the Fulbright Program and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.  For more information about ECA programs, visit http://exchanges.state.gov/

Meridian International Center in Washington D.C., received an award from the Department of State to administer institutes at four universities throughout the country with a total of 80 participants.  Other participating institutions in addition to SIU Carbondale are George Mason University, University of Massachusetts and Virginia Commonwealth University.