Portrait of a smiling man (State Dept./David A. Peterson)
Siyabulela Mandela hopes to serve his country, South Africa, by becoming a diplomat. On the way, he studied in the U.S. (State Dept./David A. Peterson)

Young scholars from around the world turn to higher education institutions in the U.S. to develop their diplomatic and policymaking skills.

Take Siyabulela Mandela, 26, a relative of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon. Nelson Mandela imagined a thriving Africa at peace, a vision that inspired the younger Mandela to pursue a doctorate in conflict resolution at the university that bears his relative’s name: Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

The younger Mandela recently spent four months at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution in Virginia, working on his dissertation.

He chose the school because of its reputation in peace research — some of the school’s scholars influenced the younger Mandela’s own views on the topic.

“I’m going to follow in his footsteps and continue his legacy,” Siyabulela Mandela said of the man he called his grandfather, although technically Nelson Mandela was a cousin. The elder statesman, who died in 2013, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to destroy apartheid in South Africa.

Portrait of woman standing in front of Tufts sign (© Pattariya Jusakul)
Natcha Suwanmalee (© Pattariya Jusakul)

The younger Mandela’s goal is tackling the issues underpinning conflicts in North Africa or Latin America by serving as a South African diplomat. “I want to work with the people that need the help,” he said.

Eyeing a job in foreign affairs

Natcha Suwanmalee, 23, of Thailand, picked Tufts University in Massachusetts “to learn how Americans think” and how, especially, American diplomats might think, something she says will help her once she forges her diplomatic career in Thailand.

Suwanmalee, a first-year Master of Law and Diplomacy candidate, hopes once she completes school, she’ll work for the Thai government, preferably with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She says she is interested in diplomacy because she loves representing her country and helping people.

Her introduction to the American education system came when, as a teenager, she spent her final year of secondary school at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. From Choate, Suwanmalee went to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington.

That a former governor of Bangkok and an ex-Thai minister of foreign affairs graduated from Georgetown gave her all the more reason to apply there.

Another plus of studying in the U.S., Suwanmalee says, is the diversity of the people she meets. “You have people from all over the world,” Suwanmalee said. “And when you become friends with students, you get curious about their culture and want to learn more.”

This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.