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Three State Department programs met at UD during the summer
U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware got his first taste of the world outside the United States as a college student in the late 1980’s, where he spent six months studying at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
Fast forward three decades and the Senator, now a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy among many other roles, has led local efforts to strengthen connections with the continent, and has championed U.S.-Africa relations on the national stage.
In July, Coons took to a different stage, this time at the University of Delaware’s Roselle Center for the Arts, to address dozens of young leaders from Africa and the Middle East, who were on campus as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI), Study of the U.S. Institutes Women’s Leadership Program (SUSI-WL) and the Student Leaders Program.
Coons reminisced on his early experiences in Africa and the impact they made.
“The opportunity for me to spend six months living in Kenya out in the northern desert with the Samburu… and with a host family in Nairobi was a life-changing experience for me,” he said. “It was not the things I learned in class that changed me, but the remarkable, radical hospitality of African families who, although they seemed materially impoverished, were spiritually incredibly rich.”
Coons encouraged the leaders to take advantage of every moment of their own exchange experience.
“You are here, not just to learn but to teach, to help us better understand the countries, the cultures, the opportunities that you represent,” he said.
This piece of advice comes at a particularly poignant moment, noted Coons. “I recognize that some recent developments have put our engagement with the world and our role very much in question. Part of why I value the University of Delaware hosting all three groups this year and into the future is because I think we have a double obligation to be as engaged and accessible and responsive as we can.”
During their time at the University of Delaware, the 70 leaders, who collectively hail from more than 30 countries, engaged in academic sessions with local innovators and immersed themselves in site visits, community engagement opportunities, peer collaboration and host family stays.
Coons also advised the young changemakers to look to each other to establish connections and nurture understanding. “I urge you to stay in touch with each other, to build friendships and relationships,” he said. “When I’ve had a chance to re-encounter Fellows that came through SUSI, YALI or the Student Leaders Program, years later, in some ways it was the self-awareness, the networks across the region or continent, that they built through their participation in these programs that made the biggest difference. Sustain each other. Support each other.”
Before answering questions from the audience, Coons urged each leader to use their time in the United States to find what he called their north star.
“Figure out what grounds you, whether it is your faith, your family, a regional commitment or a core set of values,” he said. “If you can, through these partnerships and friendships with each other, reinforce that commitment… then, you’ll leave this period of time with us here in the U.S. strengthened and empowered to make the difference I know you can for the lifetime of service you have already started.”
Adams Amini Cassinga, a UD Mandela Washington Fellow from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stood to ask the second question of the day and was surprised that Senator Coons already recognized him. “Before he could answer my question, he asked me if I had been in the mining sector before. That moment was golden for me as I knew for sure that he had read my bio thoroughly,” he said.
Those interested are invited to follow @UDGlobal on Instagram and Twitter. A special social media campaign, #UDGlobalSummer, allows you to meet the participants in all four U.S. Department of State programs hosted by UD and facilitated by the Institute for Global Studies this summer.
To learn more about the UD Mandela Washington Fellowship, SUSI Women’s Leadership Program or the Student Leaders Program, visit the IGS website or contact Associate Director for Partnerships and Programs Dan Bottomley.
About the Institute for Global Studies
The Institute for Global Studies (IGS) 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, administers State Department-sponsored programs such as the UD Fulbright Initiative, Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Institute and the Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership (SUSI-WL) program, and sponsors globally-focused events throughout the year.
IGS collaborates with campus partners, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies. In addition, IGS partners with Enrollment Management to coordinate the UD World Scholars Program.
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