Young Southeast Asian leaders visiting ASU learn civic engagement skills, ways to improve communities

21 YSEALI Fellows participated in 2.5-week experience meeting public officials, local residents


YSAELI fellows posting near sign for the Grand Canyon National Park, surrounded by snow and trees.

Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academic Fellowship on Civic Engagement participants traveled to Grand Canyon National Park in early March during their two-and-a-half-week fellowship at Arizona State University. Photo by Michelle Hill/ASU

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Twenty-one young leaders came from 10 Southeast Asian nations to learn ways to overcome community-development challenges in their homelands, but once they arrived at Arizona State University, they also found joy and value in sharing their cultures and ideas among themselves and with campus hosts and local residents.

Each completed a two-and-a-half-week fellowship in civic engagement called the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academic Fellowship on Civic Engagement. The fellowship, offered at ASU by the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is a U.S. Department of State international exchange program. The college has hosted the fellowship since 2016.

The fellows live in member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). While at ASU in late February and early March, they learned how to effectively deal with regional and worldwide issues and bolster personal ties between the peoples of the United States and Southeast Asia.

Fellows were chosen by their local embassies based on their personal history, experience, accomplishments in leadership and dedication to service.

Program Manager Michelle Hill said this group of fellows was unique in that before they arrived in Phoenix, they had already made friends with one another while completing part of the program online during the COVID-19 travel lockdowns.

“Over the course of their two-and-a-half weeks here, they were on the move,” Hill said. “From Flagstaff to (Phoenix) City Hall, the Grand Canyon to Ability360 in Tempe, the fellows’ schedule was packed with academic and cultural sessions surrounding the topic of civic engagement.”

Fellows learned ways to increase their knowledge in many areas, including fundraising and resource development; creativity, place and equitable communities; housing and homelessness; political engagement; community service; collaborative decision-making and behavioral health. They visited several local offices, including ASU’s Asia Center and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona in Phoenix.

The fellows met Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari, former Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, state Reps. Jennifer Longdon and Lorena Austin, as well as members of the ASU faculty and staff and the local community, who volunteered to teach and learn from them, Hill said.

Early in their ASU experience, fellows gathered for a meet-and-greet session in the lobby of the University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus to share their native food, books and attire with visitors and each other. They also attended the annual Aloha Festival at Tempe Beach Park, where the fellowship’s co-academic director, Alberto Olivas, performed.

Allysia Shafira of Indonesia said she found the fellowship to be of great personal value.

"To be in the USA and especially (at) ASU with the most talented people around me, I call it … a huge privilege and massive blessing," Shafira said. “Here I … not only learned about civic engagement, but also (the) necessary skills to build my community and get inspired by the work ethic of the community here in the United States, especially in Arizona."

Grant Lu of the Philippines said the experience was “truly indescribable.” Words will never be able to tell how much he learned, he said.

“Aside from the best speakers who gave us theoretical to evidence-based lectures, what I appreciate the most (are) our civic exposures and street experiences, where we met people from varying walks of life,” Lu said. “Some are kind, while others are a bit challenged, but all are unconditionally understood. This is an opportunity to share for a lifetime.”

A new cohort of YSAELI Fellows is due to arrive at ASU April 1.

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