MISSOULA – Montana high school educators or students with interests in international affairs could be among 20 students and two educators supported by the U.S. Department of State for a monthlong all-expenses-paid study program in Thailand.
The U.S. Department of State awarded a grant to the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana to implement the American Youth Leadership Program in Thailand in 2015. AYLP Thailand offers a six-month study on food security issues, climate change, leadership development and community service, culminating in the monthlong exchange program during the summer of 2015.
In Thailand, the group will explore the diversity of the country, from the bustling capital city of Bangkok to the southern beaches of the Malay Peninsula and the diverse hill tribes in the north. Cultural exchange is interwoven throughout the program, as participants will stay with Thai host families for full-immersion into local culture and society.
“We were successful in bringing this opportunity to Montana due to the statewide quality of our students and educators,” said Deena Mansour, Mansfield Center associate director. “We first won the AYLP grant in 2012 to support four teachers and 40 students in a study of Cambodia. We were successful in our bid for the Thailand program in large part because of the reputation of our program and our participants. It is an honor to bring this rare opportunity to our state.”
The funding covers travel expenses for 20 high school students who are looking to experience another culture and learn about the food security and climate change issues facing both Thailand and Montana.
“The program is a true people-to-people exchange,” Mansour said. “Far from traveling in a bubble, the group will be immersed in Thai society, learning together with Thai counterparts. Participants should be ready to eat rice three times a day with a Thai family, take an occasional bucket shower in rural areas, and thrive in the heat of the tropics with an occasional dip in the ocean. While there are challenges inherent in such travel, past Mansfield Center exchange participants will tell you that our Thai hosts are incredibly kind and hospitable, ensuring a safe and rewarding experience.”
Upon returning home, students will put their new knowledge and skills into action by spearheading a service project in their communities.
Corvallis High School student and 2014 AYLP participant Rachel Devine said her experience made a big impact on her life.
“The trip as a whole has changed me as a person entirely,” she said. “I feel empowered in knowing that making a difference in the world is truly attainable and that there are people all over the globe who want to see success or change in the same areas that I do.”
In addition, the grant pays all expenses for two educators to participate. Those qualified are Montana high school teachers or adults who have experience working with teens. While the emphasis is on international affairs, food security and climate change, the program seeks educators with the mindset to engage in such a challenging experience, regardless of their subject-area expertise.
“I feel an even deeper motivation to serve my community and be a positive role model for social responsibility and conservation than I did before the experience,” Flathead High School teacher and 2014 AYLP participant Sara Nelson said. “This experience has reignited my desire to work with kids in a more meaningful way.”
A key objective of AYLP is to provide international engagement opportunities to underserved populations.
“Globalization of our communities is slowly becoming an important priority,” Mansour said. “Historically, Montana youth have had relatively minimal exposure to international experiences compared with their counterparts across the country. This program provides a rare opportunity for students who are traditionally under-represented in international exchange, whether as a result of cost, access to information or out of concern for disability accommodations. We encourage all interested students to apply, and to reach out to us with their concerns.”
“Many of our exchange participants are surprised by how much they have in common with people halfway around the world,” said Project Manager Kelsey Stamm. “These international experiences are life-changing. There is simply no better way to learn about the world, and your place in it, then genuinely connecting with another people and culture. I have yet to meet a participant who hasn’t been incredibly grateful for stepping out of his or her comfort zone to take on this unique and challenging adventure.”
The State Department program 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 Thailand program is one of only six AYLP programs offered by the State Department in 2015.
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 center’s exchange programs available in a range of fields drawing on Montana’s strengths, including nongovernmental organization administration, economic empowerment and youth development.
Stamm said, “Successful students in our AYLP Cambodia programs proved that the best candidates for this experience are those open to new challenges and experiences, truly respect others and are ready to come home to use their experience to make their world a better place. We encourage students and educators across Montana to consider participating in this incredible adventure.”
More information and applications can be found on the Mansfield Center’s website at http://www.umt.edu/mansfield or by calling Stamm at 406-243-2838. Applications for teachers are due Sunday, Nov. 2, while student applications are due Sunday, Nov. 9.