MISSOULA – If you are a Montana high school teacher or student with interests in environmental issues or international affairs, you could be among 20 students and two teachers supported by the U.S. Department of State for an all-expenses-paid trip to Cambodia.
The State Department has renewed a $190,000 grant to the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana to implement the American Youth Leadership Program in Cambodia for 2014. Following the success of the 2013 program, AYLP Cambodia will focus on environmental issues and climate change, as well as leadership development and community service.
The grant pays all expenses for two teachers to travel on the program. While the emphasis is on international affairs and the environment, the program looks for the right instructors to engage in such a challenging experience, regardless of their educational specialties.
The funding also covers travel for 20 high school students ages 15 to 17 who are looking to experience another culture and learn about the environmental issues facing both Cambodia and Montana. Upon returning home, students will put their new knowledge and skills into action by spearheading service projects in their communities.
Applications for teachers are due Nov. 12, and student applications are due Nov. 15.
“We’re looking for the leaders of tomorrow,” said Deena Mansour, Mansfield Center associate director. “Our first successful cohort proved that the best candidates for this experience are those open to new challenges and experiences, those who truly respect others and those ready to come home to use their experience to make their world a better place.”
“Since coming back from Cambodia, I have so much more confidence in myself and in what I want to do in the future,” said Andie Palagi, a student participant from Butte. “The program really helped me find what I’m passionate about, and now I’m seriously considering going into the field of international development. I fell in love with Cambodia.”
In Cambodia, the group will study cultural and environmental issues in the capital city of Phnom Penh, as well as neighboring beaches and forests, the agricultural hub of Battambang and the ancient temple complex at Siem Reap. They will compare and contrast the many environmental issues affecting both Montana and Cambodia in areas such as mining, logging and ecotourism. While cultural exchange is interwoven throughout the program, students will stay with Cambodian host families in Battambang and Siem Reap for full-immersion into Cambodian life.
“The program is a true people-to-people exchange,” Mansour said. “Far from being isolated on a tour bus, the Montana group will be immersed in Cambodian society and learn together with Cambodian students and educators. They need to be ready to eat rice three times a day with a Cambodian family, take an occasional bucket shower in rural areas and thrive in the heat of the tropics with an occasional dip in the ocean or river. While there are challenges, our 2013 participants will tell you that the Cambodians are incredibly friendly and made the Montanans’ comfort and enjoyment a priority.”
Known to Americans for its ancient heritage and involvement in the U.S. war with Vietnam, Cambodia is one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world. In addition to environmental issues, the group will learn about Cambodian culture, society and history. A highlight of the program will be a visit to the World Heritage Site of the Angkor Archaeological Park, which contains the majestic remains of the capitals of the Khmer Empire, which dated from the ninth through 15th centuries.
“I valued the opportunity to travel to a new country and to travel with a different purpose,” Corvallis high school teacher Allison Neils-Lemoine said. “It was interesting and enjoyable to be traveling with such a rich itinerary with a program with diverse goals.”
“The opportunity to travel internationally and meaningfully integrate into another culture is a life-changing experience, but unfortunately it’s usually out of reach for most Montana youth,” project manager Kelsey Stamm said. “We are excited to offer this opportunity again for 2014 and hope that students and teachers across the state apply. It is likely that this will be the final Cambodia program opportunity for Montana.”
AYLP is designed to advance mutual understanding between the people of the United States and of other countries, prepare youth leaders to become responsible citizens, spark an interest in learning about foreign cultures and develop a cadre of Americans with cultural understanding who are able to advance international dialogue and compete effectively in the global economy. The Cambodia program is one of seven AYLP programs.
The Mansfield Center promotes better understanding of Asia, U.S. relations with Asia, and ethics and public affairs in the spirit of longtime U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield, and his wife, Maureen.
“This program complements the suite of activities offered by the Mansfield Center to communities across our state,” Mansour said. “We’re pleased that the State Department has supported us in our efforts to offer exchange opportunities to professionals, to University students and now to high school students.”
More information and applications can be found online at http://www.umt.edu/mansfield or by calling Stamm at 406-243-2838.