Green River College hosted 20 female students from Central Asia in July as a part of the United States Department of State’s Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) on women’s leadership.
The leadership program funded by the U.S. Department of State and run by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs provides the students – from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – a chance to learn about leadership while also fostering mutual respect and understanding of other cultures, Vivette Beuster, director extended learning at Green River, said in a media release.
“We get to see these students grow in five weeks in a way you normally don’t get to see,” Beuster said. “The students are challenged intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically, but come out the other side ready to change the world.”
Participants are selected by their respective U.S. Embassies.
Prior to arriving at Green River College, the students and college representatives spent a few days in Washington D.C. While in the nation’s capital, the students attended the Women’s Leadership Conference at the Department of State, visited the White House, National Mall and Capitol Building and put on a cultural festival to showcase their counties.
While studying at Green River’s main campus in Auburn, students live with host families and take courses on the U.S. Constitution, the history of women’s rights in U.S., and the Civil Rights Movement.
The program participants, in their late teens and early 20s, met with local female leaders, including Debbie Christian, director of the Auburn Food Bank; Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke; Miriam Barrett, director of the YMCA Tacoma; and Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu.
On July 20, SUSI participants spent an hour with Cooke during a visit to Kent City Hall. Cooke described her role as mayor to the students.
“I consider myself, as mayor of this city, a servant leader,” Cooke said. “To be a servant, you must serve, and who I serve are the people in this geographic area – the residents of Kent.”
This concept is different than in other countries, including those the SUSI participants come from, Cooke explained.
“When I meet people in my community, particularly if they come from other countries where it a dictatorship… it is always hard for them to understand our form of government,” she said. “I tell them you are my boss because they think I am their boss. The people are my boss. Because of elections being open, if I don’t serve them well, they are not going to elect me again.”
Cooke also discussed the challenge women face in leadership.
“Women in this country have all the opportunities that men do,” she said. “They do not always have the same goals or the same past experiences. We have different experiences, but at least there is the freedom here for women to be respected in leadership roles.”
After taking questions from the young women, Saule Baigozhina, from Kazakhstan, presented Cooke with a photo of the group dressed in traditional clothing from their countries. Cooke gave the students pins with the city of Kent’s logo.
“I just want to thank you very much for hosting, for sharing your experience and having this opportunity to learn to be a leader through your own experience,” Baigozhina told Cooke.
The program concluded with a farewell banquet on July 29 where host families, Green River staff, faculty, student ambassadors and the SUSI students shared their experiences.
Upon returning to their countries, with the guidance of Green River staff, the students will implement leadership programs developed during their U.S. visit.
“The bonds formed are amazing,” Beuster said. “Sometimes these students come from different countries with strife between them, but throughout the program they find out they have so much in common. We continue to work closely with the SUSI alumni when they return to their home country.”
Cooke told the students she looks forward to finding out how they apply what they’ve learned in their countries.
This is the 10th year Green River hosted this institute, and the fourth year with students from Central Asia. In previous years, the college hosted student leaders from South Asia and North Africa.