Step into Mother Rosalie Hill Hall Room 127 this month and there’s a lot to like. Here, in the midst of a three-week stay, is a group of 20 people, ages 18 to mid-20s, who represent not only 17 countries, but also something greater than themselves.
They each offer hope and understanding. In the short time they’ve been alive, they’ve each got a unique perspective and they’ve each taken their own path. In some cases, these paths seem unfathomable, like something one would expect to see on a movie theatre screen, not a firsthand experience.
Reality, though, often shapes real-life thinking and raises expectations of achieving something better, such as improving others’ quality of life. That’s why each participant in the 2014 Fred J. Hansen Summer Institute on Leadership and International Cooperation comes with a sense of pride. This year, picked from an applicant pool of 850 worldwide, each one treats this opportunity as if it was a golden ticket. Being chosen for this program in San Diego, which in most cases means they’ve traveled thousands of miles — Violet Machika’s 22-plus-hour journey from Malawi was her first-ever airplane flight — delivers a palpable measure of positive energy.
The institute’s fifth cohort, being hosted by the University of San Diego, offers students a chance to build onto their foundation. They engage in topical discussions, share their experiences and learn from each other’s, absorb U.S culture such as Coronado’s annual Fourth of July parade, and listen to guest speakers, including USD professors George Reed (School of Leadership and Education Sciences), Randy Willoughby and David Shirk (College of Arts and Sciences), and Ami Carpenter and Father William Headley (Kroc School of Peace Studies).
“Students come for three weeks of leadership training, social entrepreneurship and hands-on practice in conflict resolution,” says Ron Bee, the institute’s managing director. “Our foreign students come from countries of conflict or economic strife. Our Americans come from a variety of Southern California universities. They live together, study together and create friendships and an enduring network for future challenges that will likely occur between and among their countries.”
The 2014 cohort hails from Israel, Russia, Georgia, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Ukraine, Egypt, Mexico, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Belize, Malawi, United Kingdom and United States. There are five Americans, but one is a Syrian immigrant, another a first-generation Chaldean and a U.S. Marine with two tours of Iraq to his credit.
Students, in their application, were asked to define leadership. While answers varied, many strive to do what Hafsah Ali (U.K.) described. “I see the greatest leaders as those who don’t need to tell people what to do. Their actions, presence and outlook on life inspire others naturally.”
Developing leadership skills, including sessions here on improving public speaking and presentation confidence, is important. But those who are selected have already had a taste of it.
Anna Romandash didn’t let winter weather prevent her and fellow journalists from organizing a much-needed press center to provide dependable access and accurate information for her Lviv, Ukraine community and the surrounding areas where government protests took place.
Selma Baltic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, San Diego’s Randy Rojas, the Marine veteran, and Mexico’s Grecia Saldana each served as English teachers. In Rojas’ case, it was both his military experience and a trip to Spain that fueled his passion for intercultural competence.
Numerous participants, given their own challenging childhoods, seek solutions to problems now facing their country’s youth.
Indonesia’s Nindya Pasaribu created a media platform via Twitter to provide better access to information about events and opportunities available through youth organizations, thus improving engagement. Nepal’s Laxman Bhusal is a biomedical engineering student aspiring to raise awareness of sexual and reproductive health in local villages. Egypt’s Sherouk Tawfik wants to be a pharmacist. She’s been a team leader for a patient counseling project at a Children’s Cancer Hospital. Pakistan’s Salman Tahir has seen terrorist attacks as close as the high school he attended. Since then, Tahir has sought to better understand his country’s problems and be a solutions-oriented participant. In 2013, he was Pakistan’s youth ambassador for a Leadership Initiative for Excellence event in New Delhi, India. That experience, like this summer in San Diego, broadened his knowledge and network.
Russian Anton Protasov works for a non-profit organization, Mediation Academy, on large projects tied to NGOs who focus on restorative mediation and restorative justice. He’s put a lot of his energy into what’s happening in Altaysky kray, a diverse region where people from more than 100 nationalities and religions live together and ethnic conflict is common.
These are just a few powerful examples. The institute also makes sure to stay connected to previous cohorts. Israel’s Shelly Korenboim, spoke with 2009 alum Itamar Ronen prior to sending in her 2014 application. Cameroon’s Karl Ngoye, a 2008 participant, is back for a second straight summer to assist Bee and Program Coordinator Bonnie Lamb.
The institute’s membership is special, but it’s a reflection of what can exist worldwide. Chaldean American Crystal Abrahim, San Diego State University sociology major, put it into perspective.
“When studying sociology, you study different cultures and societies in the way that different people live their lives. Based on what I’ve reflected on, no matter where we come from, what our ideologies are, our religions, our backgrounds, or where our location is, what’s at the root of it all is people. It’s the human connection. I think the takeaway here is that no matter where we’re from, no matter our backgrounds, we’re people and we’re connected. Look at this beautiful group who’ve become friends with people from all over the world. It just shows that no matter what politics we believe in, there’s always friendship and that’s a foundation of creating peace in this world. That’s what we’re all rooting for.”
— Ryan T. Blystone