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April 05, 2010

Southeast Asian high school students will visit NIU to learn about leadership and Lincoln

DeKalb, Ill. — A group of 26 high school students and five adult leaders from foreign countries will get a unique view of America after they arrive Wednesday at Northern Illinois University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) for a three-week stay.

Foreign visitors at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies

The group will focus on two themes that highlight the links that make Illinois a unique site to host the program: river ecology and President Abraham Lincoln.

The theme of ecology will provide hands-on engagement with northern Illinois waterways. Activities will include testing the water of the South Branch of the Chicago River near highly-polluted Bubbly Creek; working on a wetlands restoration service project; and studying the impact of development on the region's watersheds. The group also will tour sites associated with Lincoln and study Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

The visiting teenage students are part of the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program (SEAYLP), funded by the U.S. State Department and operated by the CSEAS. They are coming from Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand to learn about America and cooperative leadership strategies.

“Just as rivers cross regional and national borders today, the world’s future leaders will need to work across boundaries, making rivers both a metaphor and a focus of the program,” said Jim Collins, the center’s director. “Rivers are commonalities between nations that have a profound impact on the people of a region and need cooperative action to solve problems. Such problem-solving ability will be key for tomorrow’s leaders.”

The program will draw on NIU’s strength as a graduate educational institution by using graduate students associated with the center to serve as mentors for the teenagers. Each of five graduate assistants will have a small group to mentor, working with the teenagers to reinforce the educational concepts while demonstrating leadership skills themselves.

“The center’s graduate assistants are a key part of the program,” Collins said. “They provide a level of understanding about a strategic area of the world and, thanks to their own experiences in Southeast Asia, will be able to help our young guests navigate through America.”

Another key element of the program is home stays with DeKalb-area families. During the 10-day stays, the students learn about American life from their host families. The families also learn about another area of the world from their students. One student from last fall’s program taught his host family to cook a dish from his native land.

SEAYLP is designed to promote high-quality leadership and civic responsibility, and to prepare participants to conduct community service projects in their homelands. In keeping with an initiative of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the institute also emphasizes building stronger ties among participants who have diverse national as well as social backgrounds.

The U.S. State Department provided NIU with a grant of $275,000 for two sessions of the program. In fall 2009 the center hosted the first group of participants from Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Only one of seven federally designated national resource centers for Southeast Asian studies, NIU’s center is uniquely qualified to host the youth leadership programs. Its more than 30 faculty associates are active researchers who teach substantial Southeast Asian content in their courses.

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Media Contact: Caroline Quinlan, Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Phone: (815) 753-5790
Email: cquinlan@niu.edu