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Saint Mary’s hosts international students seeking to learn about United States

| Tuesday, August 21, 2018

This summer, Saint Mary’s sent four students and four student leaders to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2018 Study of the U.S. Institutes, or SUSIs.  While there, this group of English, communications, political science and global studies majors joined students from around the world in exploring American culture, history and policy.

The SUSIs invite participants to an educational and cultural exchange program that provides them with an immersive experience of America.  Lasting five to six weeks, these programs are designed to help foreign undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 25 better understand the United States while also developing their leadership skills. 

The Institutes include a four-week academic residency consisting of interactive classroom activities, discussions, lectures, readings, site visits and workshops.  They also feature a one week educational study tour to a different region of the United States, leadership skills building activities, community service and opportunities to interact with their American peers on a college campus.

The program explores civic engagement, environment issues, public policymaking, religious pluralism in the U.S., social entrepreneurship, U.S. history and government and women’s leadership.

Maeve McMahon, a senior political science and global studies double major at Saint Mary’s, said she decided to apply for the 2018 SUSIs after learning about the program through her academic advisor. 

“[The SUSIs] caught my attention because I needed the credits, but once I started reading up on them and especially when I got there, I realized just how incredible the program truly is,” McMahon said.  “[The SUSIs] bring in girls from all of these other countries, and these women are so intelligent and so driven and involved in activist and non-governmental organizations. Learning from them was so helpful for my majors.”

Looking to enrich her concentration in international development, McMahon accompanied the Saint Mary’s delegation to Washington, D.C. for one week of panels, and then participated on-campus at Saint Mary’s for four weeks.  During the program, McMahon and the other students attended classes, networking seminars and guest lectures.  Each week explored different themes including religious tolerance, civil discourse, feminist theory, sexual violence, and American politics and history. The group also participated in weekend excursions to Detroit and Chicago. 

McMahon said she enjoyed developing relationships with the visiting international students.

“I now talk to them almost every day. It’s really cool having friends on the other side of the world,” she said.

While the group was studying global relations, the Saint Mary’s delegation also focused on local life through service days at different organizations in South Bend.  McMahon spent time working with local women at St. Margaret’s House, a day center for women and children living in poverty.

“Being on campus and not having a car, I never really got the chance to explore South Bend. This was a great opportunity to learn about some of the issues that South Bend is facing and also dealing with and making better,” McMahon said.

One of these field trips took the group to an old segregated swimming pool that has since been converted into the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center.  While there, SUSI participants explored the museum’s exhibit documenting the local civil rights history of northern Indiana.  The international students had a difficult time accepting the history of the Civil Rights Era in America, McMahon said.

“They had never heard of it before, they couldn’t really understand how divided it is in our country and how deeply rooted [racism] is,” she said.

Though the SUSI international scholars were concerned with learning about the social injustices of American past and present, they were equally interested in the fireflies flickering through the night sky in Chicago, McMahon said.  Before visiting America, they had never seen these luminescent bugs.

While studying and traveling with these international students, McMahon said she was able to put aside her preconceived notions of American life, and view the United States through a more critical lens.  In doing this, she not only found a greater appreciation for American institutions but also for the problems that policymakers must continue to address.

“Even though I’m a global studies major, this experience did kind of divert my focus back to the United States and the issues that still need to be fixed,” McMahon said.  “I think one of the most dangerous things to think is that there are no problems at all. We can never improve by thinking that way.”

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About Maeve Filbin

Maeve is a senior studying political science and economics at Saint Mary's, as well as Journalism, Ethics and Democracy at Notre Dame. She serves as an Assistant Managing Editor of The Observer, and thinks everyone should support student journalism.

Contact Maeve