By Tucker Wincele, SDSU Hansen Summer Institute Fellow
Which is more important: who you know or what you know? Well, fortunately for the participants of this summer’s Hansen Summer Institute on Leadership and International Cooperation at San Diego State, both contingencies are covered. This three week intensive program brings together college-age students from all corners of the world and, with their American counterparts, combines exceptionally qualified guest lecturers from every field imaginable, innovative team building exercises and hands-on leadership training. Such a convergence of talent, dedication and goodwill is as assuredly beneficial to those fortunate enough to be accepted as it is rare, and as a current student of the program, I can personally attest to that statement.
This is not your typical summer school class where a single professor, who may or may not have any “real world” experience, lectures at you for a few hours a week and then makes you fill out a scantron to prove you stayed awake. Instead, the coordinators of the program have contacted and persuaded undeniably successful and professional members of the community to donate their valuable time and share their methods of leadership, accomplishment, conflict resolution and paths to inner peace. It really says something about the caliber of people attracted to the program when a leadership coach who trains the managers of Fortune 500 companies and a panel of entrepreneurs-turned-millionaires are just as impressive as those who lectured the day before.
For anyone considering applying in the future, it’s worth noting that American students undergo a comprehensive application process involving transcripts, letters of recommendation and personal essays. Yet, even though only above-average students are accepted as American representatives, we are often outclassed by the achievements of our foreign counterparts. Whether it’s their work in international nongovernmental organizations, completing their masters degree or speaking more languages then I can count on one hand, it’s my fellow students that really emphasize, expand and sustain the value of this institute.
To me, much of the benefit comes from interacting on an individual, small group and program-wide level with the others. I’ve really found that by sharing personal experiences, political views and enjoying each other’s company, a new and often overlooked dimension of international relations is taught, something the program successfully tries to encourage.
As a reasonably well informed student of politics, one of the biggest and most rewarding experiences of the summer has been my exposure to viewpoints that exist outside our domestic left-right divide. Having to explain the merits of a free press to someone from a previously authoritarian state, the rationale behind American foreign policy decisions that often confuse the world and why there are so many rules governing our behavior in what is supposed to be a free country forces me to further analyze and sharpen my understanding of my own country, to say nothing of what my new friends share with me about their own homes.
As the end draws near, I can confidently say that this comprehensive, exciting and emotional program has been one of the better decisions I’ve made in my college career thus far. Whether your interests are personal development, international understanding or just meeting great people from around the world, this program is an amazing experience that cannot be replicated.
Tucker Wincele is a political science senior and editor for the “State of Mind” section in SDSU’s student run newspaper The Daily Aztec.