Nearly every week there are foreign leaders on campus most students don’t even realize are here.
Through the Minnesota International Center, the U.S. State Department brings emerging international leaders to learn about their particular field and how their profession practices in the United States.
The International Visitor Leadership Program has brought such famous names as Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher to the University.
This week visitors included African and Korean journalists, religious educators from Azerbaijan and a Chinese nonprofit leader.
Next week international human-rights leaders from Tajikistan will visit, as well as a professor from Senegal and nonprofit women’s rights leaders from Turkey.
The program is a project of the State Department in which U.S. embassies around the world identify talented leaders and invite them to come to the United States to meet with their professional counterparts for three weeks, said Minnesota International Center President Carol Engebretson Byrne.
“The reason this program is so dynamic is because it does not connect government to government, but rather people to people,” she said.
Byrne said the program benefits the University because it helps put Minnesota in the minds of people all over the world.
“Now the journalists might go back to Africa and try to tie together Minnesota in different parts of the world,” she said.
West African journalist Salif Senogo said that although it was not his first trip to the United States, he was excited because he was able to meet new people and learn new things.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, was one of the people Senogo was particularly excited to meet. In speaking with her, he said he realized the U.S. government still has the wrong ideas about Africa.
“Africa is a continent on the move,” he said. “We are going forward and need to be better appreciated,” he said.
McCollum was invited to speak with the African journalists because she serves on the Committee on International Relations and the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations.
McCollum said she enjoyed her many trips to Africa because it has made her aware of not only the people in Africa, but also of how the continent is connected to her district, where there are many African immigrants.
“Immigrants have made the country what it is today,” she said.
Journalism professor Kathleen Hansen helped coordinate many of the professionals who worked with the African journalists this week.
The programs that seemed particularly important to the African journalists were sessions on investigative reporting and computer-assisted reporting, she said.
“There were things that (the African journalists) were able to learn that they thought were going to be very helpful in their own countries,” she said. “And they were very excited about those aspects of the program.”
Journalist Munavvar Namdarkhan was visiting from Mauritius.
This was the first time Namdarkhan has traveled to the United States and she said she was surprised by the beauty of the campus and the kindness of the people in Minnesota.
Besides the atmosphere, Namdarkhan said, it was very helpful to learn about journalistic differences and to begin to understand how U.S. media and their journalists work.
“For me, this program has been very beneficial, and that is a real feel-good factor,” she said.