Posted by: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft
I love this part of my job. Spending time talking with some of Ukraine’s brightest young students is such a positive affirmation of the country’s amazing potential and that the work we are doing really matters. As an ambassador, most of my days are filled with meetings with ministers and government officials, visits to technical assistance projects, reading and writing diplomatic cables, and hosting receptions. To be sure, these are all serious and important things.
Honestly though, one of my favorite parts of the job – and no less important – is meeting the very impressive Ukrainian students, scholars, and professionals who have participated in our many exchange programs. Having spent anywhere from a few weeks to two years in very diverse parts of the United States, they return home brimming with interesting insights into American society, fond memories of newfound friends, and ideas for how to improve their communities. Exchange program participants see all sides of my country, as the famous Clint Eastwood movie title puts it: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We are not perfect, but I always hope they have discovered some part of “The Good” that they will use in some way when they return home.
Last night I had the pleasure of getting to know a few dozen alumni at the ribbon-cutting for the new offices of American Councils above the Palats Sportu metro, an event which key representatives from academia and the Verkhovna Rada also attended. American Councils is one of the Embassy’s key partners in running U.S. Government-supported academic exchange programs, including the Legislative Fellows Program (LFP) and the very popular Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) for high school students. The office also houses our Alumni Resource Center, so this event was a great occasion to gather together participants from many of our exchange programs, including those run by our other implementing partners, the Fulbright Program in Ukraine, IREX, and PH International. At this event, we also unveiled a book of pictures of America taken by over 40 Ukrainian exchange participants, one of whom captured a beautiful image of autumn while she was visiting Minocqua, Wisconsin, my home state.
Thousands of Americans, including many Fulbrighters and Peace Corps volunteers, have crossed the Atlantic to come to Ukraine to teach, study, and learn about this country, its rich history, and its wonderful people. Over 20,000 Ukrainians have participated in our programs since 1992, including over 9,000 in academic exchanges, thanks to the funding provided by the U.S. Congress and the American people. This year, we expect about 500 Ukrainians in our professional exchanges and almost 400 at American high schools and universities. Based on previous years, we estimate that about 1,700 additional Ukrainians are independently enrolled in American universities and community colleges. Many of these adventurous Ukrainians received guidance on the admissions process and financial aid from our EducationUSA educational advisors, one of whom is based at the Educational Advising Center in the new American Councils office. They do good work trying to take some of the mystery out of the process for Ukrainian students who want to study in the United States.
Last night FLEX alumni told me their stories about how they survived and thrived in typical American high schools in typical American towns, in Tennessee and Hawaii and throughout the U.S. Nine youngsters are living with host families this year on the FLEX Program in my home state of Wisconsin. (I should mention that, after the American Councils event, I am now the proud owner of a bright red FLEX t-shirt). I also spoke with alumni of our Fulbright, Muskie and other programs, as well as a group of Ukrainian book publishers who had spent a few weeks in Chicago, one of my country’s great cities, on USAID’s Community Connections Program, looking at how their American counterparts are braving the economic crisis and coping with new technological trends. These extremely bright, impressive Ukrainians had all served as unofficial citizen-diplomats for their country and I was reminded about the importance of this two-way flow of people and of international education in general.
The opening of the new American Councils office was timed to coincide with our celebration of the 11th annual International Education Week, a time when we encourage school children, university students and adults to take the opportunity to learn more about the wider world. Here in Ukraine, it’s an occasion to highlight our commitment to strengthening the educational system and building opportunities for Americans to study here and for Ukrainians to study in the U.S. As I mentioned at last night’s event, if we want to build the kind of close and enduring relations that both our countries want, we must expand the pace of exchange beyond government sponsored programs and build networks of people who have participated in these exchange experiences. We need more Ukrainians with experience in the U.S. and more Americans with experience in Ukraine. Because the more we know each other, the stronger the friendship between Americans and Ukrainians. What’s not to love about that?