November 28, 2011 — The University of Virginia has been selected as the university partner of the USA Pavilion 2012 at next spring's World Expo in Yeosu, South Korea, a relationship organizers say will provide students a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience.
U.Va. will administer the Student Ambassadors program, selecting 40 undergraduate and graduate students from American colleges and universities to serve as the pavilion's hosts during the Expo, which is themed "The Living Ocean and Coast."
Candidates must be U.S. citizens and proficient in Korean. Applications from students across the U.S. are being accepted online through Feb. 10. Students will be notified of their selection by Feb. 20.
Student ambassadors will play many roles in the 12,000-square foot pavilion. In addition to greeting visitors, government officials and dignitaries, they will provide administrative, protocol and programming support. "They will be an integral part of the show and the experience itself," said Andrew Snowhite, chief executive officer of USA Pavilion 2012 LLC, the team selected by the U.S. Department of State to design, construct and operate the pavilion. "Some days they might be greeting guests in the queue. Some days they might be on a microphone introducing a film."
The pavilion will be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week for three months starting May 12, with each ambassador working four days a week. Participants in the program will receive round-trip air fare to Yeosu, housing and a meal stipend.
Snowhite, a 1997 alumnus of the College of Arts & Sciences, said student ambassadors will have "an amazing opportunity."
"They are the face of America," he said. "They are the ones who are going to interact directly with the millions of people who come through the pavilion. They get to spend three months living in Korea, interacting with folks, learning all different levels of an operating business. They will be living on site in the Expo village.
"It will be a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience for those students."
Snowhite, whose business partner is social entrepreneur Philippe Cousteau, grandson of famed explorer Jacques Cousteau, said inviting U.Va. to be the university partner was the obvious choice.
"It was a no-brainer for Philippe and me to think of U.Va. first because we have a wonderful existing relationship," he said. Snowhite and Cousteau own Azure Worldwide, which has been partnering with the University in the development of the U.Va. Bay Game, a unique and interactive video game used by role-playing participants to see how decisions made by various stakeholders – including farmers, legislators and watermen – affect the health and economy of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Student ambassadors will also receive college credit for their participation. "They will all be enrolled in a one-credit course at U.Va," said Dudley Doane, director of U.Va's International Studies Office, which will manage the selection process.
The course, "Transcending Cultures While Studying Abroad," will help students be more reflective and intentional about how they engage with others during their time in South Korea, he said.
The University will cast a wide net to publicize the Student Ambassadors program, enlisting the help of Richard Cohen, managing director of the College's Asia Institute.
Cohen, who will also be involved with the selection process, said he will use the institute's website and his contacts with other East Asian Studies programs around the country to recruit potential ambassadors. The University's International Studies Office and the Asia Institute will provide briefing sessions for the selected student ambassadors in the spring.
Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, attended a luncheon at the State Department in October where the USA Pavilion 2012 partnership was announced.
"South Korea is a thriving democracy with a citizenry that is deeply engaged in global environmental issues," she said. "This exposition is a great opportunity for the U.S. to showcase its state-of-the-art thinking on environmental sustainability."
The U.S. pavilion's theme is "Diversity, Wonder and Solutions." Snowhite said the United States arguably has the world's most diverse oceans and coasts. "Geographically, we touch New England, the Eastern Seaboard, down into the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the West Coast, the Pacific islands and the polar region in Alaska," he said.
The U.S. pavilion will focus on the diversity of the coastline, the communities that call them home and their cultures.
"We are still in the process of locking down the design of the pavilion," Snowhite said. "There will be a welcome experience, followed by a main show, and the use of really nice technology to create a sense of wonder and awe."
Snowhite pointed to the benefit to the University of the relationship. "As an alum, I think it is a great opportunity for U.Va. in terms of its reach into Asia, its reach with the State Department and expanding the wonderful programs that are already going on," he said.