The impact of participation in the Summer Institute for Student Leaders from Europe on Civic Engagement cannot possibly be summed up in just one paragraph. Between the long hours of intriguing and mind-broadening academic discussions, the days of volunteering and giving back to the local communities, and the numerous eye-opening moments during the excursions and the study tour, we had the opportunity to experience first-hand the American culture and way of life, break out of our European cultural bubble and study the singularity of the American political, cultural and racial history.
One cannot imagine the uniqueness of this experience, big part of which was the SUSI group, this team of twenty-two European individuals who along with their American peers, the cultural ambassadors, the session speakers and the program coordinators were eager and more than willing to immerse themselves in debating over sensitive topics such as human rights, migration, racial issues and how to make our local communities and the world a better place through civic engagement and grassroots activism. Within five weeks we had managed to become a family, cohabitating, sharing meals and experiences, spending each and every moment together creating unforgettable memories.
While studying in Columbia, South Carolina, besides our university sessions, we watched a baseball match and July 4 fireworks, went tubing in the Saluda River as well as hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, assisted in building a house for Habitat for Humanity while spending the day at the Boys and Girls Club, spent a day with host families receiving all the comforts of southern hospitality, visited Charleston by the Atlantic ocean and Charlotte, the economic centre of the new south. Toward the end, we felt like home. Leaving for the study tour, the beginning of a completely different and new experience, was equally exciting. We visited colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia and finally Washington D.C., a time travel one could say, for we passed through three cities that represent three different epochs of U.S. history: colonial times, the revolution and first years of independence, and the present. In Washington D.C., we concluded this five-week program by meeting the other SUSI groups and presenting our capstone projects, our ideas to tackle specific issues in our communities back home, while at the same time already discussing possible reunion dates.