SDSU Becomes International Green Zone

“World peace.” Sounds like a beauty queen’s lofty answer to a pageant interview question. But starting today, that really is the goal for students participating in SDSU’s Hansen Summer Institute for Leadership and International Cooperation.

SDSU provides the venue and five of its students to mix with 16 students from the world’s most conflicted regions, to learn about one another’s cultures and conflicts, examine ways to resolve conflict, and create a network of like-minded friends as longer-term agents of social change.  The Hansen Summer Institute on Leadership, now in its third year at SDSU, lasts for three weeks, and places 21 students together to live, learn, and experience America.

This year we have participants from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, India, Israel, Jordan, Moldova, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Romania, Rwanda, Tajikistan, the U.S., and Uzbekistan.   These bright young minds were selected from 125 applications and have demonstrated leadership potential through community service activities, as well as an open-minded attitude to learn about other cultures.  Many of the participants, when selected, joined Facebook, and jump-started their conversations before arriving.  Now at SDSU they will create the friendships needed to keep a social network meaningful over the longer-term.

Watch a video about last year’s Hansen Institute

While we will be teaching them skills like public speaking and conflict-resolution strategies, much of the learning will take place outside of the classroom.

Americans in this program will hear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Hansen Fellows that live there, from a Rwandan whose parents escaped the genocide, from an Afghan and Pakistani struggling for political and social reforms, from a Brazilian working in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro, from a Cambodian who works with the victims of the Pol Pot regime, and from a Georgian and Russian, an Uzbek and Tajik, and a Romanian and Moldovan who all have their own sets of issues.   Our American students also learn about what they sometimes take for granted, and that they now have real reasons to learn about the world, because they now have friends who live in it.

The foreign students will have the opportunity to experience the American culture as well.  We’ll visit the US-Mexico border, go to the 4th of July parade in Coronado and tour the U.S.S. Midway.  And of course, we wouldn’t let them leave without trying the all-American Julian-made apple pie.

At a time when we hope to “push the reset button” on American approaches to foreign policy, we must commit to programs such as these that promote peace and understanding at the people-to-people level.  Moreover, by creating a network of friends at the University level before they enter the labor force, we can more easily dispel the stereo-types and media misinformation that can cloud our vision of a more peaceful future.    I look forward to working with this impressive group over the next three weeks.

On July 9 and 15, you can hear directly from several international participants during two SDSU Live interviews.

Ron Bee, Managing Director, SDSU’s Hansen Summer Institute on Leadership and International Cooperation
The Fred J. Hansen Foundation has generously funded this program as a commitment to world peace.

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