Washington State University is hosting a delegation of student journalists from the Balkan Peninsula as part of a U.S. Department of State program designed to help foster greater international understanding of the importance of free speech and a free press.

The expertise of WSU faculty and staff were key in the University’s selection for the five-week, $210,000 federal program. The delegation of 18 university students from Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia arrived July 6 on the Pullman campus.

“This is another example of how WSU’s reputation for excellence is known far and wide,” said Vice President for International Programs Asif Chaudhry, a retired U.S. ambassador and WSU alum. “Sharing knowledge and forging new relationships is a way for all of us to learn and benefit.”

All cultural and educational arrangements for the delegation’s visit are being handled by both the Global Research and Engagement and the Special Programs units within the Office of International Programs. GRE specializes in identifying opportunities to leverage and showcase WSU expertise worldwide, while Special Programs coordinates accommodations, schedules activities and chaperones events for educational and cultural exchanges.

Among other things, the cultural exchange program aims to give students a better understanding of how free speech and free press rights strengthen democracies, as well as greater awareness of the importance U.S. journalists place on ethics, accuracy and their role in preventing the dissemination of disinformation. The Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders from Europe is funded by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by FHI 360, a non-profit organization with offices in Washington, D.C.

WSU was among the universities FHI 360 asked to apply for the program’s Journalism and Media cohort and GRE’s proposal quickly stood out for its lineup of experienced instructors assembled from faculty, staff and regional journalists ready to participate, said Jacquelyn Piansay of FHI 360. The selection of topics that would be covered along with ample cultural opportunities also made WSU a top choice for the three-year commitment, contingent on federal funding.

“We really have the ideal combination of facilities, talent and community to deliver a world-class experience,” said GRE Director Brandon Sitzmann. “It’s gratifying that others are taking notice of this as well.”

According to the Department of State, the topic of Journalism and Media was of particular interest to the embassies, and it wanted to explore it on a sub-regional level.

Global Research and Engagement

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Students are getting a blend of classroom instruction on both the Pullman and Spokane campuses, educational field trips to regional news outlets, weekly leadership and development sessions, hands-on volunteer activities with local organizations, and exposure to U.S. cultural experiences. In addition to spending a day on a working ranch in Idaho, for example, the delegation is attending Pullman civic meetings and outdoor summer concerts, touring the Nez Perce National Historic Park, attending a Native American pow wow and will be touring CNN headquarters in Atlanta as well as attending a Major League baseball game there. The program finishes with three days in Washington, D.C., where the WSU delegation will meet with other SUSI-sponsored students from other U.S. universities for closing ceremonies before returning to their home countries.

The experience already is leaving lasting impressions on the students.

“I admire how open people are to new ideas and insights and how much they appreciate diversity and cherish equality and human rights,” Balkan student Fjolla Dumoshi wrote in a posting to an online blog created for the program. “I believe that these are fundamental values that each country should look up to, and my experience in America is making me realize how much I wish to become an advocate of these values in my home country, in the near future!”

The appreciation goes both ways.

“The students have been engaged from the beginning, and many have described their experiences as defining moments for them,” said Special Programs Manager Shane Johnson. “For us and numerous others throughout the WSU community who’ve helped make the program a success, it’s been an honor to host and educational too as we learn more from them about their cultures and countries.”