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Hansen Summer Institute: Making a Hopeful Connection

Hansen Summer Institute: Making a Hopeful Connection

Hope is often hard to come by. Yet over the past few weeks, the fellows attending the Hansen Summer Institute (HSI) at the University of San Diego seem to have found the perfect recipe: Representation of 21 nationalities from around the world, sincere dialogue about difficult geopolitical realities, and a passion that comes from high-achieving young adults — and those are just the main ingredients. Fellows have also sprinkled in late-night talks and spontaneous dance parties. 

Few exemplify this hope better than HSI roommates Fizza Zaheer, from Pakistan, and Shivranjani Gandhi, from India. On paper, the words Pakistan and India in tandem often bring stories of conflict and a divisive history. Although in their room atop Maher Hall, Zaheer and Gandhi spoke of a shared experience that is quite the opposite.

“Just this morning we had a conversation about where we stand on multiple issues our countries’ face,” Zaheer said with a smile. “And today, specifically, we watched a movie about the partition of India and Pakistan and we have a very good conversation.”

Gandhi nodded in agreement and expanded on Zaheer’s words. “It helped generate a dialogue where we can respect each other’s opinions and be open,” she offered while Zaheer was still smiling.

Both continued to share how important the environment created by the Hansen Summer Institute is. Its aim to strengthen the participants’ leadership skills and international cooperation awareness makes these cross-cultural experiences and dialogues possible.

“It is a completely diverse experience,” Zaheer said. “Just this morning I was sitting and right next to me were four people from different nationalities. I am from Pakistan and I would never experience that in Pakistan. Just to be in a space where not only people who look so different than me, but people who have had different life experiences and languages and all of that. To have free access to their minds is incredible.”

A main source of cultural exchange occurs during evening presentations given by fellows on their respective country. Here each fellow gives the rest of the group a taste of their home country — this metaphor was made real by Gandhi’s presentation as she passed a tin of her favorite Indian spiced Lays chips to the audience. Along with the food, language, and landscape of India, Gandhi also spoke of horrific realities in India concerning the subjugation and abuse of women. Her presentation ended by calling for the heightening of female rights in India and sharing her goal to motivate a sociological shift against the often-times accepted abuse of women.

Fifteen minutes of well-orchestrated questions met each presenter about the policies and historical context of issues mentioned in their presentation. Here it is worth saying that many of the fellows hold impressive academic accolades and aspire to hold political positions within their respective countries. A tangible interest can be heard within the questions asked as the fellow’s answer could help them in future positions they hold.

Zaheer spoke of the HSI fellows once joking about all being leaders of their respective countries and making international relations a mere sharing of resources between HSI friends. Following the jest, both Zaheer and Gandhi laughed heartily, but Gandhi then spoke with sincerity about the group’s ambitions.

“I have met a lot of ambitious people in my life,” Gandhi said. “But not everyone has their heart in the right place. They don’t have the empathy. But everyone in this group has so much empathy towards each other and all the conflicts and the people who are suffering. I can see and feel that energy. That really gives me hope for the future of the world.”

As the 10th Hansen Summer Institute closes this weekend, the fellows are left with international friendships, a newfound knowledge of 21 countries and an alumni network of Hanson fellows across the world. Time is now the true test of how the past weeks of dialogue, lectures, and community will affect these world-changemaker hopefuls.

— Luke Garrett ’20

India's Shivranjani Gandhi and Pakistan's Fizza Zaheer are rooming together during July's Hansen Summer Institute at USD. The program promotes international cooperation among its participants.India's Shivranjani Gandhi and Pakistan's Fizza Zaheer are rooming together during July's Hansen Summer Institute at USD. The program promotes international cooperation among its participants.

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