Intensive Exchange Program Bonds Central, South Asian Students
Washington th It's a sticky, slow summer day on the campus of George Mason University outside Washington, and the air conditioning is straining inside Innovation Hall, where a small group of international students is working on a joint project.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington – It’s a sticky, slow summer day on the campus of George Mason University outside Washington, and the air conditioning is straining inside Innovation Hall, where a small group of international students is working on a joint project. Their topic is a daunting one: summarizing the themes of democracy, cultural diversity and conflict resolution central to their program, the monthlong Benjamin Franklin Summer Institute with Central and South Asia.
Still, the most important thing going on here may not be their academic project, but simply that a group of young Afghan, Pakistani, Tajik, Turkmen and American students are sharing their ideas and experiences. Several of them are working on the assignment, but others are banging on a vending machine that refuses to disgorge a candy bar, watching a YouTube comedy routine or discussing the next day’s trip to New York City.
In short, they are hanging out, much like many teenagers around the world. That may not be listed on the Franklin Institute’s formal agenda, but these moments may well be the most memorable and enduring part of their exchange program.
Which is exactly what the program organizers intended: to see students from very different backgrounds create bonds that will last long after their program is over.
“I don’t think there is any age group that can cross cultural borders the way teenagers can,” says Carolyn Lantz, a program officer in the Youth Programs Division in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
“They are quicker than adults to find common interests,” she observes. “And teenagers figuring out who they are and how they can become independent of their parents is a process that happens no matter what your culture. Growing up transcends national differences.”
The Franklin Institute program for Central and South Asia is only the latest in a growing list of exchange programs reaching out to young people of high school age throughout the world.
Several, like the Franklin Summer Institute and the Youth Leadership Program, are short-term, intensive experiences of three to six weeks incorporating lectures and study, collaborative projects, travel and stays with host American families.
Other exchanges are longer, such as YES — the Youth Exchange and Study program — which is directed at countries with significant Muslim populations. YES students live with host families and attend high school in the United States for a full academic year.
The United States also wants to reach young teens who come from poorer families, who often don’t have an opportunity to learn English. Through the English Access Microscholarship Program ( Access ), these students can study English and American culture in after-school programs in their own countries.
“They can improve their skills in an upward ladder program and graduate from in-country English training to international exchange programs,” says Lantz, who points to a few Franklin Institute students from Tajikistan who did just that.
As part of a focus on sustainable development, the Franklin Institute participants attend a briefing at the World Bank.STUDENT BONDS
Participants in the institute’s first year for Central and South Asian students faced an ambitious agenda. They also had to make the cultural adjustment to a new country and to participants from other countries.
After a long flight and journey, 18-year-old Abdullah from Pakistan was surprised by how quickly he made friends with the other students. “With the warmth and friendships, coming to the George Mason campus felt like coming home,” he said.
Others found themselves easily making friends outside their national group as well. One Afghan student showed off a colorful woven bracelet given to him by a student from Turkmenistan. “We’re all in mixed groups and everyone is very friendly and outgoing,” he commented.
The 2010 Franklin Institute comprised seven students each from Tajikistan and Pakistan, six each from Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, and 10 American students from schools throughout the country.
After gathering at George Mason University, the Franklin Institute students plunged into a busy round of activities that focused on five key themes: conflict and cooperation, democracy and governance, international relations and diplomacy, sustainable development, and mass media.
Along with attending workshops and lectures, they stayed with American families, took field trips to museums and monuments, and traveled to New York City for two days. They also enjoyed fireworks for American Independence Day celebrations at a local community gathering in the Washington suburbs and found time for movies, games, sports, shopping and outdoor picnics.
One afternoon, they joined European exchange students from Wake Forest University in North Carolina who were members of the parallel Ben Franklin Transatlantic Institute. Working together, they undertook a simulated negotiation on climate change — with mixed groups of George Mason and Wake Forest students representing developing nations ( G-77 ), the BASIC countries ( Brazil, South Africa, India, China ), the European Union and the United States.
For many, the lectures and discussions on conflict resolution resonated the most. “We learned to stop objectifying people and just see them as friends — not Tajik, not American, just people,” Abdullah commented.
Working in Innovation Hall, 16-year-old Rokhan, also from Pakistan, said that their group project would include a skit that dealt with the issue of national stereotypes and “seeing people as people.”
“That’s the central theme of the program — countering stereotypes,” added Gabrielle Richardson of Colorado, who was working on the skit with Rokhan.
Other students found an outdoor team-building exercise, known as the “ropes course,” both instructive and memorable. “We needed to learn to believe in others, to build trust and work together,” said a 16-year-old Tajik girl.
“I was a little afraid of letting them ‘save me,’” admitted 16-year-old Zainab from Pakistan of the ropes exercise. “We all learned that it takes leadership and teamwork to solve problems.”
On one point, all of the students were unanimous: they planned on remaining in close contact with each other after they returned home. In doing so, they will join an estimated 1 million alumni of the State Department’s many exchange programs.
“It’s that process of reaching out, getting beyond your own experience,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to a group of young exchange students in June. “Finding that we really do share this same planet, and we really do have a stake in the future.”
( This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov )
This story was released on 2010-07-26. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.