African youth leaders are latest global encounter for campus community

Earlier visitors included Spanish language youth group, Hungarian Parliamentarians, thanks to College partnership with Vermont Council on World Affairs

February 22, 2023

Smiles and warm greetings during Monday’s Farrell Room gathering. (photos by Peyton Edwards ’23)

A revitalized partnership between Saint Michael’s College and the Vermont Council on World Affairs this year is encouraging more global encounters on campus, most recently a group of 15 French-speaking visitors from 13 countries in Africa, ranging in age from 18 to 40 years old.

Jeffrey Ayres, director of the College’s Center for Global Engagement (CGE), said Saint Michael’s has been hosting the recent group, in collaboration with the Council, from February 19 through March 3. Known as the Pan-African Youth Leadership Program Alumni All-Stars, the group is part of a U.S. State Department program to promote such exchanges, with funding from the U.S. Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, he said.

The group’s name reflects that all the members had previous experiences in their younger years visiting the U.S. through similar exchange programs. This time around, they will be in the U.S. for three weeks of intensive leadership training and development, including this stretch being based and housed on the Saint Michael’s campus.

Late on Monday morning, February 20, campus community members packed the St. Edmund’s Hall Farrell Room to welcome and get to know the visitors better during a gathering organized by the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures and the CGE. The group then joined a lunch in Alliot at noon with students, staff and faculty.


Saint Michael’s graduate Fulbright students Francois Wemniga and Oumar Djigo speak with some of the visiting group members

Ayres observed that this is the second time in the last three months that the College has cooperated with the Council to host a group of people from abroad. “The first was the Latin American high school students who were on campus in December, though this is a somewhat older group,” he said.

Since all of the 15 visitors come from French-speaking African countries, a focus has been to bring them into contact with Francophone members of the campus community for enriching interactions. Peter Vantine, professor of French, did a short PowerPoint to launch Monday’s event. That led into a breakout session with smaller interactive groups asking questions and making introductions. After lunch, the group had a tour of campus led by Carson O’Neil ’23, a Saint Michael’s French major.

Ayes said O’Neil is an ideal example of a student fully embracing abundant Saint Michael’s opportunities to build up his global competency – he was a Freeman Foundation funded intern in Seoul, South Korea last summer, and joined a study trip to Japan.

Peter Vantine

Professor Peter Vantine of the French faculty, left, chats up a group member after his PowerPoint

CGE director Ayres, also a political science and international relations professor, said the College hosted a group of Spanish speaking Latin American high school students in December in a similar outreach.

Later in the week, the recent French-speaking African group participated in a research skills workshop in Durick Library led by librarians Laura Crain and Kristin Hindes. The group is traveling with an interpreter, though many speak and understand some English to different degrees, Ayres said.

Ayres said in Monday’s smaller groups he chatted with a young man from Madagascar and a woman from Gabon who is a women’s basketball star, adding that visit leaders might try to connect her with some Saint Michael’s basketball players.

In another Center-Council collaboration last semester with an international focus, a group of Hungarian Parliamentarians visited campus.

“All of these are a really good illustration of how we have worked to rebuild our relationship with the Council to promote global diplomacy,” said Ayres. He explained that many years ago when former employee Marilyn Cormier was in the President’s Office, she was very active in the Council and brought more frequent programs to Saint Michael’s, but in recent years it had fallen off until this year’s revival.

get to know

Visiting group members and faculty/staff hosts get to know one another. Professor Jeffrey Ayres is at center in a blue vest.

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