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University Student Leaders: An American Professor's Experience

Our university student leader programs start with intensive study in Amherst, followed by travel to Tucson, Arizona.  The program wraps up in Washington, DC.  Dr. Javier Corrales, associate professor of political science at Amherst College, has served as academic director on many of these programs, including for Bolivian, Pakistani, and Western Hemisphere Institutes.  In the following interview, he shares his excitement about the growing success of the program.

“First of all, let me tell you: this is no part-time job!” says Dr. Corrales happily. “With Mark Protti's help, I design the programs, recruit lecturers, teach classes, and lead sessions to help the students digest what they're doing here. By now I have a lot of experience, but back in the beginning, in the first two programs, it was enormous amount of work, as we all had a lot to learn. It only works because ITD gives me so much support.”

Dr. Corrales' enthusiasm for learning is infectious, and it's easy to see that his students are inspired by it. “We are still learning a lot, even in the most recent program. One new thing I learned is that the students love interactions with students here. In the first program, we did not think of offering them many chances to interact with local undergraduates.  We fixed that once we discovered how much the participants wanted to interact with local students.  They want to sit in the class with undergrads here, rather than only having professors come to their classroom to lecture. They have an enormous amount of energy; a level of energy so high – well at 5 pm I'm done, but they want more. They love being here, and as any academic knows, when students want to absorb as much information as they can, the resulting discussions are thought-provoking, interesting, lively, amazing.”

“Many people around the world are upset with the U.S., and yet they don't have much information about the U.S. This program is designed to transform the students' preconceptions into knowledge based on history, culture, in conversations and classes. With my background as a comparativist, I can help them make connections between what's happening in the U.S. and what's happening in their own countries.”

“They all have some form of change in perspective – recently the Pakistani group was studying minorities in the U.S. It was easy for them to become quickly critical of our treatment of African Americans and Native Americans, but in the middle of the discussion, one student burst out “We are being such hypocrites! Why don't we discuss how we treat folks in our own country, our own households, our servants?”  What followed was an incredible conversation about how these Pakistani kids' families felt about their servants. We were able to give them the chance to have this frank, comparative, open discussion in a safe environment.”

Dr. Corrales credits ITD for creating an intimate, unique learning experience. “Our hope is that these students will become great citizens, leaders, even come back here to become graduate students. These students come at a truly unique age, when their minds are so open to new ideas. My biggest hope is to see this program continue. We started out with 16 kids from Bolivia. Now we have more than a hundred students from Pakistan and different countries in Latin America. From the beginning it has been enormously successful.”

“I do it because I really love to see how they react to what they observe. I just get a kick out of it!"