Saint Mary’s faculty and students reflected on last summer’s Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) on Women’s Leadership for international undergraduate women during an informational panel Wednesday evening in the Warner Conference Room of the Student Center. Elaine Meyer-Lee, director of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership, recalled the SUSI application process and the joy of hearing the College had been accepted. “We thought it was a very perfect fit with some Saint Mary’s strengths so we decided, let’s give it a try,” Meyer-Lee said. “We pulled it all together and we were selected to host the [program] we had applied for, which was to bring four women each from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Myanmar and Mongolia.” Meyer-Lee noted that most of these countries had been in a great transition during the time the program was beginning. “They were clearly identifying countries that were at sort of transformative points,” Meyer-Lee said. “There is a lot of literature out there about how important women’s leadership is and social change and they wanted to create this opportunity.” Once selected for the Institute, the College built in a role for Saint Mary’s students within the program. “We included the students originally as participants, then changed it to a mentor and participant role,” Meyer-Lee said. “We brought on 10 students to do this and they participated side-by-side with the [international] students; they lived in the dorm with them, and they went through all of the classes and communal activities for a very intense five weeks.” Meyer-Lee said students spent the first four weeks on the Saint Mary’s campus, where they were able to travel to local areas. The final week was spent traveling to the East Coast where the students were able to visit Niagara Falls, upstate New York, Boston, New York City and Washington. Meyer-Lee then introduced senior Ambreen Ahmad, a student who participated in the program last summer. Ahmad lived in a quad in Regina Hall with three participants, all from different countries including Mongolia, Myanmar and Tunisia. “This summer was a really great experience. This is definitely a great experience for anyone who is interested in political science, business, communication and social justice because it really allows you to learn and communicate with people from all around the world,” Ahmad said. “I actually learned a lot from the perspective of these girls, who are really accomplished and are only our age.” Ahmad noted how inspiring and interesting the program was for her because it allowed her to see the perspective of the young women from different countries aside from everything our society learns from the media. “It really helps in establishing and enhancing intercultural relationships because, no matter what you end up doing in your life, everything is so much more of global context and it really helps for you to learn to communicate with people who have different backgrounds,” she said. “Being able to build bridges between [the differences] is a great thing.” Ahmad added that she, along with the other students and participants from the program keep in contact through Facebook. “Almost every day someone is posting something on it,” she said. “Learning from these women what is happening in their respective countries really gives us a firsthand account from them. I think just having a connection with people from [different countries] makes you learn more about it that you may have never done on your own.” For Ahmad, living with the participants and getting to know them on a more personal level was the best outcome she received from the experience, she said. “Living in a quad gave me the most roommates I ever had,” she said. “To me, living with them was the greatest part of it. That gave me the opportunity to hear their perspective on Americans and in some ways debunk them. Being that firsthand person to explain Americans to them was really good.”
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