KSU Students Mentor International Students

KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 8, 2019

YSEALI Program Launches New Initiative

Kennesaw State University recently hosted 20 student leaders from 10 different Southeast Asian countries for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).

Creating a unique experience for the YSEALI fellows is a goal of the Division of Global Affairs, and this year the division introduced three KSU students – Gbemisola (Gio) Olorunfemi, Jasmine London and Jummy Nipo – to serve as peer mentors for the visiting leaders. 

“Our mentors help our visiting leaders learn about new cultures and gain a better understanding of the American university experience,” said BinBin Jiang, executive director of the Division of Global Affairs.

Jummy Nipo, a senior accounting major at KSU, said she knew volunteering as a peer mentor for YSEALI was a perfect fit for her. As an international student, she understood the challenges of a new country and wanted to offer support.

“I chose to be a part of this because I remember how overwhelming campus was when I arrived here as an international student from Bangladesh,” Nipo said. “Other students helped me so much, and it made me want to do that for others.”

Jasmine London, a junior majoring in Asian Studies and Modern Language and Cultures, said she was excited about the opportunity to mentor the YSEALI students and make new friends.

“The visiting students are strong activists, so they wanted to better understand human rights issues while here at KSU,” said London, an internationally minded student who taught English in China for one year before enrolling at Kennesaw State. “We learned a lot from them, too. They are very involved in women’s rights and equality.”

London and her fellow mentors spent time with the cohort of international students exploring campus, playing games and having conversations.

“For me, this opportunity was a chance to learn how to better connect with others, and especially to learn more about human rights issues across the globe and the tough issues they face in their own countries,” she added.

This is the fifth cohort that Kennesaw State University’s Division of Global Affairs has hosted YSEALI. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, YSEALI is the U.S. government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia.

This year’s cohort focused on civic engagement, and during their four-week residency, they took courses on civil and human rights, peace studies, and more while also visiting cultural sites including the Civil Rights Museum and other historic sites in the Southeast.

“The program allows these students to strengthen their leadership skills for when they return home. It also strengthens the relationships between the United States and Southeast Asia,” Jiang said.

The YSEALI students have taken home the lessons they’ve learned about democracy and civic engagement and the friendships created during their time at KSU. The experiences have also left a lasting impression on the KSU peer mentors.

“This has been surreal to see from the other side,” said Olorunfemi, a KSU political science major who also worked abroad in Korea for four years, teaching English and recruiting and preparing U.S. teacher to work in the country.

“Even though we are on different sides of the world, we react the same with something new, especially in a place where you stand out,” she added.

As a Nigerian-American, Olorunfemi said that she enjoyed talking about diaspora with the YSEALI visitors. The Honors College student was able to see how the students in the program were able to better understand American culture and history and to take that knowledge back to their own countries.

Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative group members at KSU
Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative group members at KSU

“This feels like the most impactful thing I’ve done at KSU,” Nipo said. “I’ve made an impact across the globe by spending time with new people and making new friends.”

In the summer of 2020, the YSEALI group will reunite at a symposium in Southeast Asia, where they will share the implementation of their action plan projects, build a broader network and tell their communities about Kennesaw State University and the peer mentors that made lasting impressions.

—Andrea Judy

Photography by David Caselli

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.