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Hassan Iqbal in Montana

“Why Montana?” Some of my U.S. friends reacted this way upon hearing the news that I, a business executive from Bangladesh, would be heading to the University of Montana for a six-week U.S. State Department-funded program on “Youth, Workforce Development and Closing the Skills Gap.”

On my way to Missoula from L.A. in July, I observed that many passengers were exchanging greetings as if they knew each other. “Are they relatives/friends travelling together?” The girl sitting next to me told me, “We are Missoulians — friendly and welcoming; inhabitants of the last best place.” The following four weeks of my stay in Missoula were a testimonial to what she told me.

“Precious” is the word to express my experience of this program, the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI). Hosted by the Mansfield Center at UM, the program created a cross-cultural knowledge exchange platform for both Montanans and the scholars from 18 countries in pursuing professional excellence. SUSI made me a global citizen as well. I now have friends in those 18 countries, including the USA, whom I can count on for personal and professional help. Missoula, on the other hand, has professional scholars in 18 countries as its true spokespersons and friends. Isn't that wonderful!

The SUSI academic program was rich in content. The resource persons from the UM, community colleges, business and community leaders, provided the essence of the U.S. society, culture, values and institutions. We visited Flathead Valley, Salish Kootenai and Helena colleges, and Anaconda Job Corps, and learned about the U.S. educational system in preparing Americans for future. In cooperation with American peers, we put the institute's themes into a global context by blending our home experiences of innovation, and skills development.

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In Montana, I interacted with people from policy-makers, academicians, business, students, Native Americans and, of course, regular Missoulians at restaurants, department stores, the farmers market, outdoor cinema and the baseball stadium. Everywhere I went, people showed their interest in my country, culture and reason for being there. I felt like a part of this community. In the midst of injustice, discrimination and hatred against humanity around the globe, I recommend the world community to come and get inspiration from Missoula.

A home stay with a wonderful Missoula family gave me a lifetime experience to understand American culture and values. We learned so much from each other by sharing our respective views on politics, education, parenting, work, sports, family and freedom of speech. Is there any better way to enrich one’s knowledge? This family’s sympathy and respect for people of any color, religion and place reminded me of the core values that the American society was founded upon. This couple, to me, depicted not just the beauty of the Missoula community only, but also represented the true American character.

While flying back home, I was thinking how greatly this program influenced me. I do not know if I will get another chance to visit Montana, but I am glad that I went and am motivated to contribute more to my own community development by sharing/disseminating every good lesson I learned from there.

I felt an urge to spend my last evening quietly in downtown Missoula before I left Montana. Later, as I walked home, I looked up and around and conveyed my heartfelt “thanks and goodbye” to the squirrels, greenery, Clark Fork River, summer weather, mountains and, most importantly, the people of Missoula and Montana for giving me one of the most beautiful months of my life.

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Hasan Iqbal is a Bangladeshi national, a business executive in the private sector and an educator who promotes technical skills among youth, particularly women. He participated in the Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) program this summer under the Youth, Workforce Development and Closing the Skills Gap institute at the University of Montana. 

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