We represent the group of 20 undergraduate students selected for the Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, led by Dr. Len Broberg, and hosted by the Mansfield Center of the University of Montana. This is the fourth year that this program has gathered the young and talented future leaders to study about global environmental issues. We all agree that it is a five weeks of brand-new experiences throughout Montana, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.
The Institute consists of a balanced series of seminar discussions, readings, and lectures. Educational travel and local site visits complementing the coursework and classroom activities facilitate us to explore the important role of environmental policy in the development of the United States. We are so excited to engage in a policymaking exercise to apply the concepts presented by Dr. Len Broberg. In SUSI 2013, it is the first time that health care is included and we had chance to visit the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, which is a state-of-the-art biomedical research facility.
Within this program, we have learned many things that will help us develop environmental sustainability for our own countries. We feel lucky to be here in Montana, the “big sky state” with the richest of mountains, and natural resources. Therefore, the education study tour in Montana is one of the best ways for us to learn about environmental issues. Apart from well-preserved areas, Montana still has several Superfund sites such as the Milltown Dam and Berkeley Pit region. Learning about these projects helps us understand how efficiently the U.S. preserves natural resources. In addition, visiting Glacier National Park was an exciting field study for us to touch snow for the first time and enhance self-awareness about climate change.
An important part of this program is fostering leadership. At first, we thought that a multicultural country like the U.S. might find it hard to solve problems. However, this does not appear to be the case because Americans are good at teamwork. For example, we had an activity at the city ropes course. Before climbing, we had to have at least two people on the ground controlling the rope so that we wouldn’t fall in case of an accident. This is a great leadership activity that demonstrated how important teamwork is. Initially, some of us thought that we couldn’t do it since none of us had ever climbed before, but then we realized that if we really want something, to just be brave and go for it.
For us, it is a great program which gives us a chance to exchange culture as we can live with local host families. Through this experience, we have found that most American people are independent in pursuing their life choices. Secondly, we found they love traveling and outdoor activities such as hiking to the Bitterroot Mountains, swimming, and exploring the town. Moreover, most of the people are really friendly and helpful. Referring to the food, while people in our countries usually eat rice and a lot of vegetables, Americans have quite high-calorie food like hamburger and pizza. Despite the differences, we enjoy most of our meals!
Part of the program is developing a practical and feasible project to be implemented in each country. For instance, the Cambodian team will run a “Paper Bag Campaign” to make a sustainable change in people’s behavior from using plastic bags to paper bags. Similarly, the “Renewable Containers” from the Burmese team aims to reduce the number of plastic bottles and motivate students to use reusable containers instead. A creative idea from the Thai team is “Young Environmental Ambassadors on Solid Waste Management” to enhance leadership skills for students and encourage them to transform waste to valuable products. It is fascinating to see the project “Reducing Energy and Garbage Management” by the Lao team to reduce global warming by lowering electricity consumption. Finally, the Vietnamese group will establish a monthly magazine titled “RING!” in order to connect and promote the collaboration of environmental organizations in Vietnam.
We are wholeheartedly grateful to the U.S. Department of State and the American people who support us in education. SUSI 2013: it is definitely a journey of knowledge, mutual understanding, and friendship for us.