International Education Week — Americans in Action

Posted by: Parvina Shamsieva-Cohen, Professional Associate, U.S. Consulate

As the snow falls and Ukrainian school children are in the midst of their holiday vacation, I warmly recall my recent visit to a Ukrainian high school.  The visit was in commemoration of International Education Week, a combined initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education.   Every year, this particular week gives Americans working at embassies abroad the opportunity to highlight the  importance of increasing student knowledge of the world’s cultures, peoples, and languages, and affirms the critical role that international education and exchange programs play in fostering people to people contacts throughout the world.  Being a former graduate student myself from Tajikistan to the U.S. under the auspices of the Open World-Soros Foundation, I jumped at the chance to visit Kyiv public school #168 and talk about educational opportunities and share my own experience.   Iryna Tymchenko, my Ukrainian colleague, was also eager to participate.

Students of Kyiv public school #168
Students of Kyiv public school #168

This was not just any typical school, mind you.  The school is unique in that it is the only school in the area (Kyiv Oblast) where physically disabled children are integrated into regular class rooms.  Children with disabilities and non-disabled kids both benefit from this approach. Some of the disabled kids have even started walking on their own since the integration began! The teachers’ dedication and enthusiasm are particularly amazing to me.

I chose to speak to the children on the topics of Renewable Sources of Energy and Intellectual Property Rights. These are topics of particular interest to me, and I tried my best to transmit a fraction of my passion for them to the audience.   The children seemed genuinely interested in these subjects and asked me many pertinent questions afterwards. 

In our attempt to reach out to the students, my colleague, Alison Hannah, talked with students via web chat about Studying Abroad and specifically about the Summer Work and Travel Program. This program typically generates tremendous interest among Ukrainian students and the number of program participants increases every year.  In 2009 alone, the Consular Section in Kyiv reviewed over 11,000 applications for the program. 

The main participants of the web chat were students from Kremenchuk National M. Ostrogradskyi University and Education USA “Osvita” from Dnipropetrovsk, but it was also open to the general public as well.  During the chat, Alison covered issues related to the exchange program, program administration, possible placements in the U.S., visa types and application procedures.  Alison also provided tips on ensuring personal student safety in the US. 

The presentation, which incorporated the most frequently asked questions, was based on Alison’s experience dealing with the variety of exchange programs. The audience evaluated the presentation as extremely informative, and among the best they have ever experienced.  Web chat participants particularly noted Alison’s openness and the transparency of the program.

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