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Global Engagement and Leadership Experience Program Lets Students Appreciate Differences

We often forget, at a school of 40,000 students, just how diverse the Penn State community really is. And though we do not think about it often, there is much we can learn from each other. Penn State’s Global Engagement and Leadership Experience (GELE) is a unique opportunity for Penn Staters to break out of their comfort zones and learn more about each other in an open and constructive forum.

Managed by the Office of Global Programs, GELE is a two-and-a-half day conference that consists of about 40 students (50 percent American and 50 percent international).

“The idea of GELE was out of a desire to give international and U.S. students a space and opportunity to talk to each other,” says Kristin Thomas, the creator of the program. “It is amazing to see students who are from across the nation, across the world, not only look at their differences but commonalities. They then bring what they have learned to their leadership, relationships and involvement on campus.”

At GELE, students get a chance to open up about their thoughts and perspectives on a variety of topics including stereotypes and ethical decision-making. Abigail Ruths, a past participant, described the conference’s atmosphere as “[an] opportunity for nonjudgmental, open, cross-cultural dialogue that you don’t normally get on campus… [It] gave me an opportunity to ask questions because I knew no one would get offended.”

While the program consists of many formal discussion panels and activities, there are also many opportunities for participants to just hang out with each other. And it isduring  these moments that students actually bond with each other. Aakash Shewakaramani, an international student from Dubai, described this as a “hidden learning process.”

“You knew as a participant that you were there to broaden your understanding of other cultures — to improve your cultural literacy, but you didn’t know how that learning was going to happen.”

Overall, the program is perfect for anyone looking to learn more about different backgrounds and leadership at the global level. In recent years GELE has consisted of Penn Staters from a variety of places including Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Germany, Brazil, Ghana, and India, to name a few. The conference itself is held twice a year (once each semester) at the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park; the dates for this Fall are Nov. 7–9, and applications are due Oct. 3.

For more information on GELE and how to apply, check out its website here.

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