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July 14, 2004

Middle East students learn about America in the Midwest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – For one month, Indiana will be at the center of America's effort to build mutual understanding between the Middle East and the United States.

Summer Institute on American Life
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Recent high school graduates who are future leaders of the Middle East and North Africa will learn about American life firsthand at a first-of-its-kind institute based in the American heartland at Purdue University from July 17 to Aug. 22.

The summer institute is being sponsored by the Department of State's Middle East Partnership Initiative, known as MEPI, and its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The grant for the summer institute has been awarded to the Indiana Center for Cultural Exchange, a partnership among Indiana University, Purdue and the University of Notre Dame. Donald W. Mitchell, director of the United States 2004 Summer Institute on American Life and Youth Leadership, said the center is dedicated to using the resources of its Indiana universities to foster better understanding and appreciation between the United States and the Middle East, and to develop the leadership skills of the region's future leaders.

"This is a great opportunity," said Mitchell, a professor of philosophy and director of the Indiana Center for Cultural Exchange. "The Department of State, Congress and the federal administration have all said that one of the most patriotic actions that a private citizen can do at this time is to participate in public diplomacy in order to help the Middle East better understand the institutions, values and ideals of our country, as well as help us understand the cultures, values and ideals of their countries.

"Peace can grow from better understanding," said Mitchell, who is director of the Indiana Center for Cultural Exchange and will be the host for 18 recent high school graduates from 12 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. "These students are the future leaders of their countries. By bringing them to Indiana – with its mix of Midwestern hospitality, small towns, vibrant cities and agricultural areas – we hope to show them the real America, not what the media portrays to them in their countries.

"And the Americans who come in contact with this fine group of young adults will learn firsthand about diverse Muslim cultures that are hidden from us by war-torn images on television."

The 18 students come from 12 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, such as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Lebanon. They will stay at Purdue's West Lafayette, Ind., campus for two weeks of classes on American political, social, cultural and economic life, followed by two weeks of youth leadership training. They also will meet with administration, congressional and judicial leaders in Washington, D.C.

"I am very proud that Purdue was selected as the location for this institute," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "Purdue has a number of leading scholars who will influence these young adults who want to learn more about our country and culture, and I look forward to Purdue and the Lafayette community learning from these visitors as well."

Besides staying at Purdue, the students also will take classes at the two other Indiana Center for Cultural Exchange institutions.

"At all three universities we have chosen professors who are not only well-known scholars, but who are award-winning teachers," he said.

At Purdue, the summer institute faculty includes professors from the School of Liberal Arts' departments of history, political science and sociology, as well as a member of the School of Education. At Indiana University, institute participants are from the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department, and the Kelley School of Business. The University of Notre Dame members are from the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Center for Social Concerns.

"Prejudices and misconceptions go both ways, and the only way to overcome these obstacles is to understand different economic and policy systems, as well as different countries' aspirations and constraints under which they operate," says Bruce Jaffee, professor of business economics and public policy, at IU's Kelley School. "The key message is for the students to understand that effective economic growth is dependent on cooperation, openness, trust and honesty. This program will help them see that in the nation's capital, a big city, a college town and a rural community."

At Notre Dame, the students will participate in workshops about religious peace building at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

"In order to build peace, religious conflict needs to be discussed," said Hal Culbertson, associate director of the Kroc Institute. "Our interreligious workshops will focus on how we can make peace across historic and cultural traditions. The students' visit to the United States will provide them a firsthand experience of how they can be part of the peace building process."

This is the U.S. Department of State's first institute for graduating high school seniors from Bahrain, Egypt, West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Israel and Yemen.

"A goal of this institute is to help the students understand the basic principles of American representative democracy, the values and ideals that animate American society and culture, as well as the challenges Americans face and the issues that they debate," said Thomas A. Farrell, who is the deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which is overseeing the program for the State Department. "Another goal is to help Americans understand that diversity of cultures in parts of the world with predominantly Muslim populations and also to let the students learn from each other and share experiences."

The office of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., is coordinating the Washington, D.C., travel for the students.

"This cultural exchange and others like it are vitally important to the future of U.S. relations with the rest of the world," said Lugar, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The more individuals from other countries can know about America, our culture and our values, the better. Purdue is an ideal choice for this important program."

Under the leadership segment of the institute, the students will meet with such people as Guy Gardner, a former astronaut who now is director of super project development for Discovery Park's E-enterprise Center at Purdue; Leroy Keyes, Purdue alumnus and former professional football player; Jan Mills, mayor of West Lafayette; Renee Thomas, director of Purdue's Black Cultural Center; S. Syeed, secretary general of the Indiana-based Islamic Society of North America; and former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

"We also will teach them about freedom of religion, speech and expression using art, entertainment and music, as a prism to look at American culture and its values," Mitchell said. "This is also a great time to talk about the importance of civic duty and volunteering, which the students will experience when they do volunteer work in our community. Actually, many of the students are already involved in volunteer work in their own countries. If you can imagine, one 17-year-old youth living in an area with frequent terrorist attacks volunteers with the local ambulance service. We have much to learn from these kids."

This program is an expansion of last year's Young Ambassadors Institute at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. The Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative also has similar programs for college students this summer at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Delaware. The program is a presidential initiative founded to support economic, political and educational reform efforts in the Middle East by championing opportunity for all people of the region, especially women and youth. Middle East Partnership Initiative strives to link global private sector businesses, non-governmental organizations and governments in the Middle East together to develop policies and programs that support reform in the region.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Donald W. Mitchell, (765) 494-4281,

Martin C. Jischke, 494-9708,

Richard Lugar, contact Nick Weber, Indiana Press Secretary, (317)-226-5555,

Thomas Farrell, (202) 619-6409,

Bruce Jaffee, (812) 855-9219,

Hal Culbertson, (574) 631-8832,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in covering the United States 2004 Summer Institute on American Life and Youth Leadership should contact Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Related Web sites:
Purdue Department of Philosophy

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University

Purdue University President Martin C. Jischke on Tuesday (July 20) welcomes 18 students from 12 countries in the Middle East, including from left, Carla Khazzoum, Syria, 18; Renad Hikmat Dawoud, West Bank, 17; and Dina Zbeidy, Israel, 17. The students are in the United States as part of the 2004 Summer Institute on American Life and Youth Leadership, which is based at Purdue. On the right are Donald Mitchell, director of the institute and Purdue philosophy professor, and Peter M. Benda, a representative of the U.S. Department of State. The institute participants, all recent high school graduates, will be in the United States through Aug. 22 to learn firsthand about American political, social, cultural and economic life.

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