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Global Perspectives on Democracy
Building Knowledge and Bonds


The Center for Politics' international program, Global Perspectives on Democracy (GPD), continues to spread the message about the importance of civic engagement beyond America's shores through first-rate programming and the building of close ties with international participants. GPD New Media, which took place during the summer of 2010, included college students from Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka. A two-year project with Afghanistan kicks-off in June 2011, and other opportunities are on the horizon.

The content of the individual GPD exchanges has provides the delegates with an exceedingly high level of information and knowledge about American history and government. Participants learn about the English arrival at Jamestown, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the importance of individual liberties, contemporary American politics, why civic engagement is vital to a healthy democracy, pluralism in the U.S., the need for a free press, the necessity of the rule of law and much more. They visit the homes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the birth home of Woodrow Wilson, and learn of the founders' significance to the world in which we live. They engag in discussions with many successful and knowledgeable practitioners, receiving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact directly with decision makers that help shape our society.

As important as the knowledge they gain are the personal connections that delegates make with our nation and its culture, the University of Virginia, the Center for Politics and GPD staff, and the relationships among their peers in the visiting delegation. This is an essential part of what the delegates experience when they attend a Global Perspectives on Democracy program. Daman Irby who manages the planning and execution of the GPD exchanges said, "We put a lot of effort and extra hours into making sure that our guests receive not only an academically rigorous experience, but also a level of personal attention that leaves them with a very positive impression of the Center for Politics and the University of Virginia".

Cultural and natural excursions have provided opportunities for the delegates to get to know a side of Virginia and America with which most were previously unfamiliar. Meg Heubeck, who develops curriculum for the programs and recruits home-stay families and internship providers, knows that a well rounded experience is what makes GPD special. "These excursions have provided a sharing of cultures that goes beyond what we learn in the classroom. Last Summer, when leaving the Fiddlers Convention in Buena Vista, Virginia, both participants and musicians thanked each other for taking the time to learn about each other's culture. That is what the program is all about," said Heubeck. While visiting Virginia Beach, few planned to get in the water, but the magnetism of the ocean was an irresistible force that pulled in almost everyone, including the program staff. That and similar experiences, including the long, soggy ride home, made lasting memories and further strengthened the bonds among the participants, the Global Perspectives on Democracy program staff, and our nation.

One of the Global Perspectives on Democracy: New Media Participants from Sri Lanka, Deane Jayamanne, a participant in the 2010 program, said "The multifaceted experience that Global Perspectives on Democracy provided was amazing. I continue to reference the lectures and resources from the course, but getting to know the people and culture truly provided an unparalleled experience. Daman and Meg were the best hosts ever. So accommodating." Sabhanaz Rashid Diya from Bangladesh added, "The program for me went beyond cultural exchange or learning new things or rediscovering the West. Every relationship made was special and for each participant, it was an opportunity to unlearn and relearn things about ourselves. We learned not only to overcome prejudices, both in the context of East vs. West and subcontinental differences, but also discovered a unique understanding of what life has in store for us. Global Perspectives on Democracy New Media was truly a life changing program that none of the group of 20 will ever forget."

GPD will soon embark on its next great challenge. The Center for Politics in partnership with Relief International will host 68 professionals from the judicial and public service sectors of Afghanistan. GPD Afghanistan, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, will take place during four three-week sessions in the summers of 2011 and 2012. Delegates during these sessions will focus on job shadowing and will also engage with speakers on topics related to their professions.

Visit www.centerforpolitics.org/gpd.html to learn more about the Center's Global Perspectives on Democracy program.