Student leaders promote respect and understanding around the world
Enlightening. In a word that is how psychology student Mercy Oluwafemi would describe the leadership program she attended this past December in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Thirty students pursuing higher education in 20 Commonwealth nations joined together in Kuala Lumpur for the Association of Commonwealth Universities leadership program. The program focused on giving student leaders practical means to promote respect and understanding at their home institution and beyond.
“Meeting people from around the world and learning about their culture opened my mind and made me more culturally inclusive. I was able to step out of Canadian culture and reflect on the way we do things in the west isn’t the only way to do things,” said Oluwafemi, an undergraduate psychology student in the Faculty of Science.
The program examined what it means to be culturally intelligent and the development of leaders through a cultural lens. Throughout the program, Oluwafemi worked on her own cultural intelligence using the concepts of core (the fixed and unchanging aspects of a person) and flex (the malleable and adaptable parts of a person).
“I was able to work on defining my cores and flex through the exercise,” says Oluwafemi. “Reflecting on where I’m coming from and my background and how it came together to form my core. This made a lasting impact on me as I saw my flex growing as I met people from different cultures and increased my experiences. I was able to relate to other cultures in a way that I could not have done before the conference.”
Oluwafemi was able to take her experience outside of the classroom to meet with organization leaders from the SEED Foundation―advocates for the homeless and transgender community in Malaysia and the Global Peace Foundation―an international organization that is working for a sustainable global peace.
“I came away from this experience better equipped to be an ally to the trans community, increased my understanding of how to use the media to advocate for an issue and promote respect and understanding using language and actions, and to continue working for social change even when faced with resistance and challenges,” reflects Oluwafemi on her experience.
“Learning more about these organizations made me realize how similar community organizations in Kuala Lampur are to the ones in Winnipeg. The struggle to find funding and enough hands to keep these organizations running is a global problem. Seeing the solutions that people came up with was inspiring.”
For Oluwafemi, taking what she has learned beyond the classroom has only just begun. She has formed a group with three other students from the program to better understand the issue of respect and understanding and apply it to their respective universities. The group plans to have a complete framework on how they will affect policy and strategic planning on campus to include respect and understanding.