Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) For Global Student Leaders

In partnership with the U.S. Department of State, Meridian International Center welcomes 120 international undergraduate student leaders each year to engage with U.S. culture and develop global leadership skills through the Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Global Student Leaders program. The SUSI program is founded on a belief in the unlimited potential of intercultural exchanges to promote leadership and entrepreneurship skills in young leaders. Through partnerships with five U.S. universities and a series of interactive classroom activities, community-based projects, and site visits to U.S. cities of all sizes, SUSI student leaders experience an in-depth investigation into program themes and enhance their understanding of American values.

Each SUSI for Global Student Leaders Institute includes a four-week intensive Academic Residency at a partner university, a Study Tour in a second city, and the development of Community Action Projects.

The four-week Academic Residency is aimed at deepening participants’ understanding of U.S. institutions and culture and empowering them to take action in their home communities. The Academic Residency is followed by a curated Study Tour highlighting diverse American communities as models of resiliency and thematic expertise in areas of interest to participants. During the SUSI program and with support from staff at the Institutes, each participant designs and plans a Community Action Project that employs what they learn from SUSI to create positive change in their home community. As SUSI alumni, participants are eligible to apply for Mini Grants to support the implementation of these projects.

SUSI Alumni Engagement

The SUSI experience does not end when participants return home. Meridian and university partners have developed a series of continuous mentorship, networking, and learning opportunities to transition participants to alumni, in addition to encouraging them to join the Department of State’s International Exchange Alumni network. Participants have many opportunities to stay connected with SUSI and other ECA alumni and Institute hosts as they use the knowledge gained during the program to give back to their communities. Upon return to their home countries, participants are eligible for post-program engagement opportunities to support ongoing leadership development and the implementation of Community Action Projects.

Community Action Projects

Consistent across Institutes, participants are expected to produce a final Community Action Project. Parameters for the Community Action Projects are defined by each University and inspired by teachings, trainings, observations, and conversations each participant has during the Academic Residency and the Case Study Tour. The projects reflect and meet the social, economic, or other needs of participants’ home communities and allow the impact of the SUSI program to extend far beyond each individual’s time in the U.S.


Summer 2022 Academic Institutes

Meridian is excited to welcome students from around the world for four weeks of cross-cultural engagement and immersive learning across five different thematic Institutes:

Entrepreneurship and Economic Development – University of Massachusetts, Amherst 

(Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia)

This Institute focuses on entrepreneurship and its relationship to economic development. The program highlights the individual and group skills along with the necessary policies and practices that enable successful enterprises. The primary goal of the Institute is to ensure that participants not only develop an entrepreneurial spirit but also have the resources to encourage others to do the same. During the Institute, participants learn to discuss economic decisions made by U.S. authorities and citizens in an informed way.

Rule of Law and Public Service – University of Nevada, Reno

(Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Kuwait, and Malaysia)

In honor of the late Senator John McCain, student learning objectives of this Institute include defining the “rule of law,” describing the basic organization of the U.S. justice system, and explaining the difference between state and federal courts. This Institute equips students with a solid foundation of various aspects of the judiciary branch, role of media, differences between a criminal matter or civil matter and outlining the importance of transparency in justice. In addition to the academic goals, participants learn about Americans’ relationships to governance, public service, and the rule of law.

Civic Engagement – Shippensburg University 

(Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, and Turkey)

The primary goal of the Civic Engagement Institute is to engage young leaders in the practice of critical thinking to develop personal agency and clarity of vision. The academic program provides participants with the tools and understanding necessary to allow them to become engaged citizens and leaders in their own communities. Another goal of this Institute is to give participants opportunities to interact with people with a wide range of worldviews and experiences different from their own.

Religious Pluralism in the U.S. – Temple University

(Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon)

Participants in this Institute are introduced to key concepts related to religious pluralism in the U.S., including volunteerism in civil society, protection of minority rights (including LGBTQ and disabilities concerns), nonviolent conflict-resolution, civil rights, and interfaith/inter-religious dialogue. Throughout the Institute, participants use what they learn about religious pluralism and institutions in the U.S. as a starting point to engage in discussions of norms and institutions of religion in their own communities.

Education and the Future of Work – University of Washington, Seattle

(Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Tunisia)

In this Institute, participants explore the history of labor movements in the U.S., the economic impact of skills-based training programs, and the role of education in preparing young people for successful careers. Participants are exposed to programs addressing gaps in the workforce, adapting to globalization, and innovating at the high school and post-secondary levels, as well as reskilling and retraining programs and continuing education.

Highlights from Past Years

Virtual Academic Residencies

The COVID-19 pandemic presented impediments to convening our SUSI students in-person, but Meridian pressed on with alternative options. In Summer 2021, Meridian, along with Institute partners at Bard College; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; the University of Nevada, Reno; the University of Washington, Seattle; and Temple University pivoted the SUSI program into a virtual, four-week intensive Academic Residency. Participants engaged in hallmarks of the SUSI program, such as activities ranging from project planning sessions with mentors to cohort-wide discussions.

In January 2022, Meridian and Institute partner, FIUTS at the University of Washington, Seattle, welcomed SUSI participants from Angola, Botswana, Mali, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe for a five-week virtual academic residency on Civic Engagement. This program consisted of synchronous and asynchronous academic content, virtual homestays, project planning sessions, and workshops. Through these activities, participants were able to further their leadership skills, networks, and understanding of U.S. values, culture, and institutions:

“I learnt of the importance of citizen participation and how student activism continues to shape the future of our learning environment. It made me think of the tremendous impact that activism has had on the fight towards racial discrimination. It made me think about activists in my own country that are doing great in terms representing students and standing up for their rights.”

– 2022 Civic Engagement Participant, Zimbabwe

When possible with global health guidance, Meridian intends to bring Virtual Academic Residency alumni to the U.S. for a 10-day capstone study tour of their host Institutions.

2020 Virtual Alumni Programming

Meridian and university partners engaged alumni of the Summer 2019 and Winter 2020 SUSI cohorts through a variety of virtual opportunities, including webinars featuring distinguished guest speakers, roundtable discussions on topics of interest, virtual site visits, and various sessions and activities to support students’ Community Action Projects.

Topics covered in these virtual sessions include “Community Engagement through Art and Culture,” “Leading through Uncertainty: Responding to Challenges by Learning from One Another,” and “Embracing Challenges as an Opportunity.”

Winter 2020 Community Engagement

Meaningful engagement with a diverse range of Americans is a critical piece of the SUSI experience. Winter 2020 SUSI participants had ample opportunities for such engagement. Through a range of activities organized by their host institution, the University of Washington, Seattle, participants were able to learn first-hand about the American experience while also giving back to their host communities.

During the four weeks of their Academic Institute, participants interacted regularly in group settings and individually with student ambassadors from the University of Washington as well as host families in the area. Additionally, the SUSI student leaders volunteered at food banks, participated in MLK Day of Service projects, taught local elementary students about their home countries, met with local government leaders, and practiced networking with local professionals.

SUSI Educational Study Tours

Designed in collaboration with university partner Consortium members to complement the Academic Institutes, SUSI Study Tours offer participants a multi-day, hands-on examination of examples of Institute themes in a community geographically and/or demographically different from that of their host university. Each case study showcases a local community’s response to tragedy, trends, or other societal impacts and new perspectives. Study Tour locations differ across cohort years.

Civic Engagement (Bard College) – Baltimore, MD

A successful urban redevelopment program has radically changed the face of the city; however, social inequalities persist. Participants explored how the citizens have engaged to find solutions to issues such as housing, policing, education, racial justice, unemployment, and healthcare.

Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) – Detroit, MI

After decades of economic decline, culminating in America’s largest municipal bankruptcy in 2013, Detroit is undergoing a transformation. Participants explored how companies and NGOs collaborate to help Detroit reclaim its stature as Michigan’s economic and cultural hub.

Rule of Law and Public Service (University of Nevada, Reno) - Atlanta, GA

Historic home to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., this Southern capital continues to be an important center for civic activism. Participants explored how the public and private sectors can work to affect public policy and improve rule of law.

Religious Freedom and Pluralism (Temple University) – Salt Lake City, UT

Founded by followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seeking to escape religious persecution, religious freedom is paramount here. Participants learned how the city has encouraged interfaith dialogue and has protected the rights of minorities and refugees.

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Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Global Student Leaders is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by Meridian International Center.

Project summary

Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) For Global Student Leaders
Impact Areas: Education, Youth Leadership Development
Program Areas: Global Leadership
Temple group meal