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Southeast Asian scholars in State Department leadership program visit Creighton, talk ethics and exchange

Creighton University played host to 21 young people from 10 Southeast Asian nations Monday, March 20, as part of a U.S. Department of State program to identify burgeoning leaders in those countries.

The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI, started in 2015 under President Barack Obama with an aim toward building leaders in the fast-developing region. Twice a year for five weeks, groups of young people, ranging in age from their late teens to early 30s and representing diverse levels of education and careers, participate in a leadership academy among six universities in the U.S.

The students visiting Omaha March 20 were guests of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a YSEALI partner institution. Val McPherson, a community liaison with UNO who helps host the YSEALI contingents, always makes sure Creighton is on the list of places the visitors experience. In this most recent iteration, YSEALI delegates were hosted by Creighton’s vaunted Asian World Center and treated to a discussion with Creighton undergraduates representing the University’s Philosophy for Children program.

“We never miss the opportunity to come to Creighton,” said McPherson, who is a graduate student in Creighton’s East-West Studies program. “We try to expose the delegation to as many different elements as we can and Creighton, with the Asian World Center and the depth of conversation we enjoy here, it gives the delegates a new perspective and a lot to think about.”

YSEALI is a program in the vein of the International Visitor Leadership Program which, in 75 years under the aegis of the State Department, counts among its alumni 335 presidents or prime ministers in nations around the world.

“It’s a great opportunity for Creighton and for our students to meet with these scholars who will be the future leaders of nations in Southeast Asia,” said Maorong Jiang, PhD, director of the Asian World Center. “The exchange of ideas and different philosophies is truly beneficial on both sides. And we hope that the visitors get an opportunity to learn a little more about Creighton and its international outreach.”

Following a luncheon, the visitors took part in a spirited conversation with Daniel Zimmer and Tom O’Neill, Creighton students and teachers in Creighton’s Philosophy for Children program which engages philosophical discourse in schools and institutions throughout Omaha. Zimmer and O’Neill asked the delegates to ponder the question: “What obligations do we, as children, have to our parents?”

The discussion ranged from questions of filial piety to benevolent leadership, from legal and moral obligations to personal ethical codes.

“We went with an ethical theme because we thought we’d see a pretty wide variety of views between cultures,” Zimmer said. “And it got a good conversation going. I’m glad they had opinions they were sharing and that those were branching into other conversations.”

Jinmei Yuan, PhD, director of the Philosophy for Children program, said the parental obligation question ventured down avenues that she hopes will lead to continued conversations for her students and the visitors.

“There are some common values and there are also difference with cultural understanding,” Yuan said. “We have to think about that and how those values push back against our own ideas. I think the students did a good job with the conversation. It gave everyone something to think about.”

Brandon Crawford, a junior political science major who joined in the delegation’s visit as a guest of Jiang’s, said the interaction was a fruitful one.

“It’s always good to talk informally about differences and similarities and to learn from one another,” Crawford said. “To be able to meet with a group of people from different countries is expanding our ideas and thoughts about the world and hopefully also opening them up to what’s happening in the U.S. There are so many different viewpoints to consider and the more we have these conversations, the more we begin to generate greater understanding.”

Additionally, the YSEALI delegation met with Creighton President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, and were also greeted by René Padilla, PhD, vice provost for Global Engagement.

The group will spend about three weeks in Omaha looking at the question of civic engagement. They will then travel to Portland, Oregon, a city of commensurate size with Omaha and similar levels of civic engagement, before wrapping up the trip in Washington, D.C.

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