UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Southeast Asian Leadership fellows reflect on time in North Dakota

Fellows cite helpfulness of mentors, Grand Forks community as highlights of exchange

From left to right: YSEALI fellows Kev Channa, Siti Suci Larasati, Ngo Bao Linh and Zezinha “Z” Lumena Do Rego Cornelio pose on the Memorial Union’s Social Stairs. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

As their month-long visit to North Dakota wrapped up, four fellows representing the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Professional Fellows Program (YSEALI PFP) shared lessons learned from their work, along with their impressions of North Dakota and Grand Forks.

In hosting the U.S. Department of State-sponsored program — designed to boost cultural ties between the United States and Southeast Asia — UND partnered with the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana. Named after former U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield, a former Senate majority leader and U.S. ambassador to Japan, the Center promotes global exchange and civic engagement.

Kev Channa, Siti Suci Larasati, Ngo Bao Linh and Zezinha “Z” Lumena Do Rego Cornelio spent the month of May in Grand Forks, partnering with campus and community leaders on projects supplementing the fellows’ employment in their native countries.

The fellows agreed that the stereotypical trait of “North Dakota nice” rings true, and that left them with a positive impression of the Peace Garden State.

“People are very friendly here,” Channa said. “My relationship with my host family was outstanding. They were so supportive and treated me so well that I felt like a member of the family. I told them that this is a lifelong experience, an eye-opening opportunity that can help me to make friends and connections from the other side of the world.”

Larasati also poked fun at the state’s relatively flat topography.

“I heard one of the funniest things,” she said. “Someone said that because North Dakota is so flat, you can see the tail of dogs running five kilometers away.”

Larasati, who worked with Joshua and Cheryl Hunter, associate professor of education and interim dean of UND’s College of Education and Human Development (respectively), said she was impressed with the multiple perspectives she encountered during visits to food banks in the region.

“I’m grateful that both of them helped me to meet community members,” she said. “They have a global perspective but can successfully transfer it so that everything runs perfectly locally.”

Returning to her role as chief executive officer of Aksata Pangan, a food bank in her home of Medan, Indonesia, Larasati said she will use her experiences as a YSEALI fellow to advocate for more nutritious options.

“I will share with my co-workers that of course we should be concerned about food loss and waste, but we should also be thinking about the food package we are giving our communities,” she said. “We need to make it balanced with fresh produce, protein and carbohydrates.”

Channa, who worked with Manuela Gabriel, director of UND’s International Center, to assist in the recruitment of international students, said one practice he would like to adapt to his work in his native Cambodia is increasing parental involvement in education.

“I see that as one of the key factors that can keep children in school,” he said. “The students I am working with are first generation. Parents do not really know how to help the children and rely on teachers instead.”

Linh, who worked with Laura Link, associate professor of teaching and leadership at UND, appreciated the multi-disciplinary approach of her project, particularly the intersection of law, social work and education. The native of Hanoi, Vietnam, spent her time in Grand Forks learning from faculty members at both UND and Grand Forks Public Schools, including Brian Pappas, dean of UND’s School of Law, and Terry Brenner, superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools.

Linh said she will use her experience gained in Grand Forks to advocate for restorative justice within the school culture in Vietnam, specifically addressing the root causes of bias and discrimination.

Linh also expressed excitement that her host Daphne Pederson, Chester Fritz distinguished professor of sociology, will travel to Vietnam this upcoming October.

After departing Grand Forks, Larasati, Channa and Cornelio will visit New York City, where they will sightsee, and Washington, where they will visit with their respective nations’ ambassadors.