College students from 16 countries came to UD as part of the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

Civic leadership

UD hosts Middle East Partnership Initiative for 11th year

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9:17 a.m., Aug. 13, 2014--Twenty-three college students from 16 different countries across the Middle East and North Africa came to the University of Delaware this summer to participate in a six-week intensive program focused on civic leadership. 

This year marked the 11th consecutive year UD has hosted the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Program, which aims to help give young leaders the tools they need to be successful and create positive change. 

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The program was lead by academic director Tracey Holden and administrative coordinator Rachel Garcia.

Established in 2002, MEPI is a cultural exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State that is designed to give students training in leadership to foster civic engagement back home. The program provides $600 million in development funds for over 1,000 grant projects in more than 18 countries.

The MEPI program presented opportunities for students to cultivate leadership and entrepreneurial skills through academic lessons, days of civic engagement, and the opportunity to live at on campus, as well as visit a number of U.S. cities.

The MEPI group had the opportunity to visit San Diego, Philadelphia and New York City. The program first began and then culminated in Washington, D.C., where group members gave a presentation about their experience at UD.

During their time in San Diego, the MEPI students participated in roundtable discussions on social entrepreneurship as well as peace and justice connected to civic engagement at San Diego State University. They toured the historic city, participated in the Disney Youth Education Series Program and were able to enjoy Disneyland.

“Visiting San Diego allowed us to see a part of the U.S. that is completely different from [Delaware] -- the West Coast has its own culture,” said a program participant from Egypt.

The MEPI students also visited historically relevant sites in Philadelphia including the National Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell, as well as the Gettysburg battleground and Lancaster. 

While in New York City, the students spent two days exploring the city and understanding its different areas and peoples. All visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum, as well as the Statue of Liberty, and on their own they visited landmarks including the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and a myriad of other sights. 

“New York was something in a dream, and then seeing it in reality – well, seeing it in reality it was even more beautiful,” said a student from Palestine.

The MEPI students spent much of their time in academic sessions focused on cultivating leadership and entrepreneurship. Based on their area of focus, they visited seven civic engagement sites including the Kingswood Community Center, Delaware Financial Literacy Institute and the Latin American Community Center to learn how community-centered organizations operate. 

On July 4, the students participated in a joint picnic with the UD Washington Fellows, another initiative at UD this summer. The experience was one of sharing and learning about the people, cultures and unique challenges each of their home countries face. 

“What is so powerful for me is watching them change and transform; the light bulb goes off,” said Garcia. “They realize their own potential. Watching that process unfold and building cross-cultural relationships is what makes this program so amazing.”

The MEPI students were able to meet U.S. Sen. Chris Coons when he came to campus to meet participants in both the MEPI and Washington Fellows programs, and to speak on the topic, “The Relationship between Civic Leadership and the Federal Government.”

All of the classes, civic engagement sites and cultural experiences added to their final presentations. Projects of this year’s MEPI students ranged from an auditory screening and awareness campaign in Palestine, to a center for jobs and skills in Lebanon, and initiatives to aid orphans in Iraq. 

 “Being a young leader, we need to establish something that is our own that will create success and at the same time create a better community,” said a student from Lebanon.

Perhaps one of the biggest influences on the students in the program was the opportunity to engage with peers across different countries of the Middle East and North Africa, or MENA, region.

“When you meet people from different parts of the world, and even different countries within the Middle East, you are all uniquely different, but you are all human,” said a student from Palestine.

“There are students here who would have otherwise never had a chance to meet. That is what is so powerful about this program, it brings people together across borders,” said Holden.

Watch the UD MEPIs 2014 final video presentation here, view a Storify page of their experience and read the group’s blog for more details about #UDMEPI.

About the Institute for Global Studies

The Institute for Global Studies was created in 2009 to enhance the international dimensions of teaching, research and outreach at the University of Delaware. IGS provides leadership and support for programs and experiences that contribute to the education of informed, skilled, open-minded citizens of the world.

Best known for coordinating the University’s study abroad program, IGS also awards scholarships and grants to faculty and students for myriad global opportunities, administers internationally-recognized programs such as the MEPI (Middle East Partnership Initiative) Student Leaders Institute, and sponsors such signature events as International Education Week each fall and country-specific celebrations each spring.

IGS collaborates with other global partners on campus, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies.

Article by Elizabeth Adams

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