Sixteen Humphrey Fellows from developing countries visited social studies, journalism and art classes Oct. 25 to speak about their homelands, explain their professional goals and gain insight into American education.
The Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program is an international exchange activity funded by the U.S. Department of State that brings mid-career professionals to the United States for a year to focus on professional development, complete internships and study at universities throughout the country.
The 193 fellows this year come from 93 countries, and Whitman’s visitors were all from different countries.
The fellows visiting a journalism class included Dzung Nguyen, a diplomat from Vietnam studying at Michigan State University; Thulani Mkhaliphi, a government development reformer from Swaziland attending University of Minnesota; and Branko Veselinovic, a Serbian producer and morning-show host taking a class at Arizona State University. Other visiting fellows came from Oman, Ecuador, Mongolia, Bangladesh and Armenia, among other countries.
During his time here, Mkhaliphi has realized that that television and newspapers in his country perpetuate many misconceptions about Americans, he said.
“For me it’s all about perception,” he said. “What I knew before and what I know today. I’ve had the opportunity to meet ordinary Americans. They are extremely accommodating and highly tolerant. It’s the opposite from what you see on a television talk show.”
Mkhaliphi, who has a daily national radio show in Swaziland, looks forward to sharing the cultural knowledge he has gained with citizens back home.
The fellows also discussed the role of journalism in educating the public. They agreed that journalists are public servants who have a responsibility to present accurate information so people can make judgments about the world.
“As public servants, we project things as they are for the common good,” Veselinovic said. “Take out the value, take out personal interests. Just project things as they are.”
But in today’s digital age, journalists are now aggregators, rather than gatekeepers, of the news, Veselinovic said.
“You can explore, you can pull the news, you can have your own opinion,” he said. “You have to be like a navigator. It’s a different age.”
Another topic was how foreign exchanges are crucial for spreading different ideas about education theory. Nguyen said the American educational system, which encourages critical thinking, differs from that in Vietnam, which emphasizes memorization. She wants to bring this idea to her country, she said.
“Here you can talk about what you think,” she said. “And teachers help you to find the right way to see an issue.”
Nguyen works to promote relations between the U.S. and Vietnam by bringing people together and encouraging cultural understanding. To that end, she has developed an exchange program between a New York City high school and a school in her Vietnamese city. During her Whitman visit, she also talked to principal Alan Goodwin about the possibility of implementing another exchange program here, she said.
“I hope that among you sitting here, maybe I could see some of you again in my country,” Nguyen said.