- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

A group of students from the University of Mississippi and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa is in the District to exchange ideas as part of the Lott Leadership Exchange Program, an study-abroad program named after U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, a Republican.

The “reciprocal education” program involves two weeks of learning in the United States and two weeks in South Africa for the 17 Mississippi and 15 visiting students.

“We’re learning more about leadership, [but] we’re also learning more about each other,” said Lisle Van Heerden, a third-year student from Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Many of the students who sat shoulder to shoulder Friday at the South African Embassy in Northwest agreed that the emerging global society — with intertwining economics, politics and cultural traditions — has made life more complicated. But they still thought social interaction was essential in understanding the changing world.

“I feel that the program will help us to understand that there’s a world outside America,” said Brittany Chapman, a sophomore from Moss Point, Miss. “It will hopefully broaden our horizons and help us understand other people around the globe.”

The students met with a diplomat at the embassy, where they discussed South African politics and social issues for 90 minutes.

Derek Barham, a junior from Monticello, Miss., said there are striking similarities in the civil rights histories of the United States and South Africa.

He said racial segregation in America before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can be compared with the system of apartheid in South Africa before 1994.

In South Africa, “their ability to forgive” each other for apartheid was critical, Mr. Barham said. “I think one of the biggest problems in the South is that grudge.”

The monthlong program is free to the students and is funded by private donations and federal grant money that is matched by the University of Mississippi.

“The one thing we’ve got to do is communicate,” said Tyrone Marc Gunnie, the South African Embassy’s second secretary for public diplomacy.

The students have visited the University of Mississippi’s campus, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark., and various sites in the District.

In South Africa, they will visit sites such as the Cradle of Mankind, the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and the Addo Elephant National Park.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to build leadership skills and build relationships between students in the United States and South Africa,” said Brian Miller, a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Mississippi who is helping to chaperone the group.

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