By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–On the eve of last week’s elections, IU Southeast welcomed an international delegation to campus for a conversation about democracy, American style.
The multi-disciplinary group included Hrvoye Kresic, a TV reporter from Croatia; Swaraj Shekhar Shetty, digital specialist from India; Roni Elon Frajnd, senior advisor to the President of Israel; Arnold Puyok, deputy dean of political science from Malaysia; and Nalaka Hemantha Rathnayake Pahala Ralalage, assistant commissioner of elections from Sri Lanka.
The five professionals were traveling as part of the “Will of the People–Elections in Democracies” project under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
“The purpose of the visit is to explore democracy and civic education in the western tradition, explore political party development and cohesion, and to learn about election center and voting precinct preparation, election monitoring and more,” said Laura Duncan ’13, visitor program manager with the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana (WAC).
The group previously visited Washington, D.C., Florida and New Hampshire.
While in Kentuckiana, the group visited campaign representatives in Louisville, met with local farmers, visited the Muhammad Ali Center, spoke with a grassroots political podcast, and attended a Republican pre-election rally in Lexington.
At IU Southeast, they made themselves available for a meet-and-greet over pizza with campus Republicans and Democrats, and were treated to a presentation on the U.S. electoral system by Rhonda Wrzenski, associate professor of political science.
The members of the group, some of whom had visited before, were well-informed about U.S. politics, and keen to learn more.
Their interests ranged from technological aspects of the ballot itself, the decentralized nature of governance, gerrymandering and the impact of race in politics, to the decline of local news reporting, the changing role of local dynamics and the urban/rural divide in American politics and culture.
The visit was organized locally by WAC, in its role as an official community-based member of the International Visitor Leadership program.
According to Duncan, the WAC is positioned as the hub of “citizen diplomacy” for residents of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, crafting meaningful connections between the world’s emerging leaders and their industry peers in the region through engaging meetings, workshops, volunteer, activities, site visits, professional exchanges and home-stays.
“Having the delegates on campus provides a wonderful opportunity for students to speak with professionals from other countries and to ask questions about differences in electoral structure and outcomes,” Wrzenski said. “The delegates also get to observe a college campus in the United States, and IU Southeast gets to make a connection with scholars from all over the world.”
Homepage photo: (from left) Nalaka Hemantha Rathnayake Pahala Ralalage, Roni Elon, Swaraj Shekhar Shetty, Arnold Puyok, Hrvoye Kresic, with IU Southeast students Elijah Jacob and Gwen Good, and Dr. Rhonda Wrzenski.