To celebrate Civic Engagement Month, we are highlighting our many inspiring alumni from our Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Global Student Leaders program. Through partnerships with U.S. universities and a series of interactive classroom activities, community-based projects, and site visits to U.S. cities of all sizes, SUSI students experience an in-depth investigation into program themes and enhance their understanding of American values.
Mehri Gulamova of Azerbaijan participated in the 2019 SUSI for Global Student Leaders on Civic Engagement with Meridian’s partner, Bard College.
How would you define “Civic Engagement”?
My dream of becoming an exchange student in the United States came true in 2019 when I had the privilege of participating in the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) program at Bard College. This transformative experience brought me face-to-face with the profound world of civic engagement, leaving an indelible mark on my perspective.
The concept of civic engagement to me stands as a testament to the power each individual has to impact their communities and society. It’s about asserting our beliefs, advocating for change, and actively participating in our community. Civic engagement takes on various forms, from volunteering and initiating community projects to participating in decision-making processes and advocating for justice and equity.
This month’s theme is civic engagement. How has participating in SUSI transformed the way you view civic engagement in your community and around the world?
The SUSI program introduced me to a wide spectrum of civic engagement practices across different communities and countries. The experiences I had in Baltimore, ranging from visiting community centers and news media companies to exploring local community initiatives in NYC and Baltimore, were enlightening. These experiences illustrated the profound role civic engagement plays in shaping societies, emphasizing the importance of individual actions and voices in driving change.
Since returning from the SUSI program, how have you been civically engaged in your community? How have the skills you learned during your SUSI program impacted these activities?
During my time in the SUSI program, I was privileged to experience a rich tapestry of civic engagement practices in the United States, with various activities ranging from exploring community centers and media houses in New York and Baltimore to participating in local grassroots initiatives. These experiences were enlightening as they starkly illuminated the multifaceted ways individual and collective actions profoundly shape societies.
However, the most striking revelation was the global commonality of civic issues. I understood that the challenges my Azerbaijani community grapples with are not isolated. They mirror those found in other corners of the world, hinting at a universal thread of human experiences and struggles. Consequently, it dawned on me that the solutions we engineer in our local contexts could have resonance on a global scale. This understanding has fueled my passion for contributing to my community and beyond. I now see how my local actions might inspire and guide civic engagement initiatives worldwide.
Upon my return from the SUSI program, I translated the insights and inspiration I had gleaned into meaningful action within my home community in Azerbaijan. With a team of enthusiastic university students, we focused our efforts on high school students in various rural towns who grappled with challenges in accessing opportunities for soft skills development.
We launched a series of non-formal educational projects which saw the participation of over a hundred high school students. Our initiatives involved intense discussions around the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on food waste and gender equality. We not only ignited awareness but also inspired these students to act on these issues in their respective communities.
To further these initiatives, I provided continuous mentorship to these high school students, aiding their applications for U.S. exchange programs and other European initiatives. The skills I honed during my SUSI experience – crisis management, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership – were integral to the success of these endeavors. As a result, we now have a community of students who are not just more aware, but also equipped with the necessary resources to become change-makers within their societies.
Based on what you learned throughout the SUSI program, what advice would you give the next generation about being active in civic engagement?
Reflecting on my journey, my advice for the next generation is to believe in the power of engagement. Remember that every action, however small, counts. Harness your unique skills and passion for change to make a positive difference in your community. Civic engagement is not only about actions but also the spirit we put into these actions. Let’s carry this spirit forward, and together we can create a world that mirrors our dreams.