MISSOULA – Twenty students and two educators from across Montana will be selected for an all-expense paid program to Thailand through the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana. Applications for this open competition are available now through the first week of November.
The American Youth Leadership Program for Thailand, funded by the U.S. Department of State, offers a six-month study on food security issues, climate change, leadership development and community service and culminates in a month-long exchange program to Thailand in July 2016.
This is the fourth year the Mansfield Center has received a grant to implement AYLP. Emphasizing U.S.-Asia relations, the first two years of the study took Montanans to Cambodia, while the Thailand program began in the third year.
Because of the Mansfield Center’s success in managing international exchanges, Montana is one of only six areas in the country where students are eligible to apply for AYLP. Most AYLP programs draw from major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Houston.
A key objective of AYLP is to provide international engagement opportunities to underserved populations. According to Mansfield Center Associate Director Deena Mansour, the program “provides a rare opportunity for students who are traditionally underrepresented in international exchange.”
AYLP funding covers travel for 20 high school students who want to be immersed in another culture and learn about the global issues facing both Thailand and Montana. Upon returning home, students put their new knowledge and skills into action by spearheading a service project in their communities.
“I saw the world from a completely new perspective, and gained skills that can only be learned through first-hand experience,” said Isaiah Hesford, a student from Boulder. “Everyone should have an experience like this in their lives.”
The grant also pays expenses for two educators to participate. Those with youth experience in an educational setting are encouraged to apply. While emphasis is on international affairs, food security and climate change, the program seeks educators with the mindset to engage in a challenging experience, regardless of their expertise.
In Thailand, the group will explore the diversity of the country, including the bustling capital city of Bangkok, the southern beaches of the Malay Peninsula and the diverse hill tribe region in the north. Participants will compare the global issues affecting both Montana and Thailand. Cultural exchange is interwoven throughout the program, as participants will stay with Thai host families for full-immersion into local society. Students also are partnered with Thai high school peers in each of the three locations.
Mansour said the program is a true “people-to-people” exchange, with hosts who are “incredibly kind and hospitable.”
“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,” she said.
“Many of our exchange participants are surprised by how much they have in common with people halfway around the world,” Mansfield Center Program Manager Kelsey Stamm Jimenez said. “I have yet to meet a participant who hasn’t been grateful for stepping out of his or her comfort zone to take on this unique and challenging adventure.”
AYLP is designed to advance mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and of other countries, spark an interest in learning about foreign cultures and prepare youth leaders to become responsible citizens by developing a generation of Americans who are able to advance international dialogue and compete effectively in the global economy.
The Mansfield Center promotes better understanding of Asia and relations with the U.S., as well as ethics and public affairs in the spirit of longtime U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield and his wife, Maureen.
“Successful AYLP students are those who are open to new challenges and experiences, have a real interest in connecting with people who speak a different language and follow other cultural norms, and are ready to come home to use their experience to make their community a better place,” Stamm Jimenez said.
More information and applications can be found on the Mansfield Center’s website at http://www.umt.edu/mansfield or by calling Stamm Jimenez at 406-243-2838. Applications for teachers are due Nov. 1, while student applications are due Nov. 8.