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Dateline Asia: 35 Years of Training Future U.S. Leaders

July 8, 2009

By Katherine S. Hunter

My recent 5-1/2 week trip to 11 countries and 13 cities in East and Southeast Asia was to finalize arrangements with Asian host organizations for 16 new Luce Scholars. It also inspired thinking about the dozens of organizations that have hosted these young fellows since the program began in 1974.  In the past four decades, the long list of organizations that have hosted more than 550 Luce Scholars – promising young American leaders in their twenties – is a literal “who’s who” of Asian universities, think-tanks, technical institutes, NGOs, media outlets, companies, and arts/cultural organizations.  The organizations mirror the diversity of interests of the Luce Scholars from year to year, ranging from economic development, the law, legislative affairs, and foreign policy to environment, human rights, health, the arts, and science and technology.  As a result, Luce Scholars have been privileged to spend their 10-month fellowship with a rich diversity of organizations ranging from Peking University, Korea’s East Asia Institute, the Kyoto Lacquer Restoration Research Institute, the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Medical University, and the Mongolian  Veterinary Research Institute in East Asia; to the Hanoi School of Public Health, Phnom Penh Post, Indonesia’s SMERU Research Institute, Singapore International Arbitration Center, the Thailand Environmental Institute, Manila’s Venture for Fund Raising, and Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organization in Southeast Asia, to name a few.

Nominated by American universities and selected by external review panels comprised of Asia experts and former Luce Scholars, the selected Luce Scholars participate in a 10-month fellowship that provides exposure to the work and social culture of their respective countries through placement in a host organization. Once there, they assist with activities that may include research, teaching, program implementation, business planning, reporting, and public outreach. Whether they are directing a Vietnamese-language production of a Tennessee Williams’ play in Ho Chi Minh City, assisting with advocacy programs for the rights of marginalized Filipino workers, studying the integration of traditional and Western medical practices in a rural Thai hospital, developing new technologies to create transgenic organisms in a Japanese research center, or researching the policy implications of China’s rise for Korea, the Luce Scholars have been immersed in the work of their organizations in many ways.

Throughout the fellowship, Asia Foundation in-country staff, as well as the officers and staff of the host organizations, mentor the Luce Scholars in not only their day-to-day assignments but also in their understanding of the organizational culture and the local society.  Together, the host organizations have contributed not only to the Luce Scholars’ knowledge of Asia and the local culture, but also to their understanding of the organizations’ work in the context of the country’s development and history. In immeasurable ways, these host organizations have thus made a significant contribution to the personal and professional lives of this group of promising young Americans, an investment in American leadership development that is recognized and valued.

The Luce Scholars Program was established by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974 to provide an opportunity for young Americans to gain a firsthand understanding of Asia. The Asia Foundation has administered the Asian portion of the program since its inception.

Kim Hunter is The Asia Foundation’s Luce Scholars Coordinator. She can be reached at [email protected].


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InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

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