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Seventeen high school students from different countries in Africa came to St. Michael’s College April 12 – 25 as part of the Pan-African Youth Leadership Program (PAYLP). PAYLP is a youth leadership program that provides cultural exchange and civic engagement training for high school students from Africa. Their visit to Vermont was coordinated through the Vermont Council on World Affairs (VCWA). This is the third time St. Michael’s College worked with VCWA, according to Jeffrey Ayres, director of Center for Global Engagement (CGE).
“They had a pretty rigorous schedule while they were here,” said Elizabeth Bernier, director of events and operations at the Vermont Council on World Affairs. According to Bernier this program provided students a variety of opportunities while in Vermont. On the first day, they went to Montpelier and visited the state house. They met with Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, visited the Vermont History Museum, and toured the Ben and Jerry’s factory at the end of the day. “I think it’s one of the highlights of the entire thing for them. They love ice cream,” Bernier said.
On another day, the students participated in a cultural night and dinner, with the Burlington based nonprofit, African Americans Living in Vermont (AALV). The nonprofit works with the new Americans communities in Burlington, and the surrounding area to help them become self-sufficient and integrate into their new community.
In addition, the PAYLP students also participated in some events that were hosted by St. Michael’s. One of these events was the International Festival. Those students coming from Africa were able to share their culture with other local students or international students that attended the festival and they were able to learn about other cultures from around the world.
“I know a couple of our participants got up and danced and shared from their cultures back home,” Bernier said. “And they enjoyed learning about other cultures from what was brought on campus by St. Mike’s.” Carson O’Neil ’23 is majoring in French here at St. Michael’s College, and was the tour guide for these 17 African students.
“They were all excited to learn more about American culture and college life and so we did a lot of comparing and contrasting from their country to mine,” O’Neil said in an email. “On the tour, and at dinner, both groups expressed to me how much they loved basketball. Some of the younger ones’ eyes lit up when I showed them the court and I let them know how they could get their hands on a ball.”
While PAYLP students were on campus, the CGE helped coordinate their visit. “Our job, our goal is to welcome a diverse group of people to campus. You know, demonstrate global citizenship, civic goodwill, and also ideally, introduce our students to more and more diverse peoples from around the world, which is what we did,” Ayres said. The PAYLP program can provide a good recruitment impact in terms of enrollment.
“This is also like a student recruitment opportunity. I would love to see many of these students attend St. Michael’s. I mean they’re going back to high school and some of them expressed an interest in St. Michael’s, we would certainly welcome them applying. I absolutely wanna see and support an increase in our international student population,” Ayres said.
Before they left the U.S. a couple of students from Africa expressed to Berniers interest in returning to the United States and even to Vermont to study when they got to that point.
“Having visits from a group of students from such diverse countries, provides our students and staff cultural enrichment and interactions, and will also help them obtain a memorable experience they can share when they return home,” said Rosemary Yargici, director of the office of International Student and Scholar Services in an email.
Abroad programs like PAYLP are supported and hosted by CGE to bring opportunities for international student recruitment and broaden the view of the world, share the cross-cultures and build leadership through cross country communication. “I think for many of them, it was a life changing experience. It was a lot of participants’ first time on a plane, a lot of participants first time outside of their home country. So it was really great to see them experience. A lot of firsts, and a lot of new things.” Bernier said.