The newest cohort of Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) students made an excursion to Nebraska in March and April. The students were selected to participate in the YSEALI Academic Fellowship on Civic Engagement — a program that incorporates academic and civic exchange in the United States to provide fellows an opportunity to engage with American society and government. The group represented students hailing from all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states.
The fellows arrived at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (in its third year serving as a host university for YSEALI initiatives) on March 11, and stayed for a week before transferring over to Western Nebraska Community College for five weeks. During this period, the universities provided fellows academic residency and an American classroom experience that included topics such as civic engagement, economic development, political leadership, and grassroots activism in the United States.
Outside of the classroom, fellows also partook in community engagement and service projects to develop a deeper understanding of how US local, state, non-profit, and private organizations operate in the field. Fellows visited the Nebraskan Panhandle, traveling to the cities of Scottsbluff and Gering from March 22 to 25. During this trip, students visited the Legacy of the Plains Museum and the Scotts Bluff National Monument to experience rural American life.
Some students also had the chance to stay with American host families and learn about life in traditional US homes. After studying political and economic themes at host universities, the fellows were able to enjoy dynamic conversations with their host families about war, politics, and religion.
The Civic Engagement Fellowship is a firm representation of the enduring academic relationships between Southeast Asia and the United States. In Nebraska alone, international students from Asia contributed approximately $63 million to the economy in 2011. The Civic Engagement Fellowship is a branch of the broader YSEALI mission, cultivated in tandem with other exchange initiatives such as the Environmental Leadership Institute. It is under the framework of these exchange programs that a talented network of young professionals and future leaders will enhance bonds among ASEAN countries and strengthen ties between ASEAN and the United States.
David Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a Master's Candidate of the Asian Studies program at Georgetown University.