Balkon3 interview with Robin Lerner, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Ms Lerner, More than 300.000 foreign citizens every year come to the US on the Exchange Visitor (J-1 visa) Program. It is obvious that the US is strongly dedicated to this idea of exchange programs. Why is that so?
– For the past 50 years, the Summer Work Travel Program has been one of the most popular opportunities for foreign university students to visit and learn about the United States. It is also one of the Department’s largest means available to positively influence the opinion and attitudes of international youth toward the United States through people-to-people diplomacy. Summer Work Travel truly is a global and universal program that links the people of the United States with young people from virtually every place in the world. In the past decade alone, one million foreign university students have visited the United States, built relationships with U.S. citizens, and worked to defray their program costs. They have returned to their home countries, graduated university, and begun careers in every field. Engaging such large numbers of the youth helps better ensure a secure and prosperous 21st century, as many of the next generation in these states will have first-hand familiarity with the United States, and us with them.
You will meet SWT alumni here. It seems to be a good mix of culture, travel and education. Couple of hundreds of young Macedonians are beneficiaries of this program. Who can apply, how long it lasts what are the benefits of this program?
– Eligible students must be able to speak English, be enrolled full-time and studying at an accredited post-secondary, classroom-based, academic institution in their home country. In addition they must have successfully completed at least one semester, or equivalent, of post-secondary academic study. Students may participate in the program for up to four months during the long break between academic years. Students benefit from the program by improving their English, making American friends, and gaining valuable experience and exposure to the United States. It also provides the opportunity for them to share their culture and offer insight and perspectives of their country with their American hosts.
I’ve participated in the International visitors Leadership Program, and this was an extraordinary experience for me. There are a lot of famous people in the world who are IVLP alumni. For example, our prime minister Gruevski, Croatian president and croatian prime minister, Turkish president, ex PM of GB Tony Blair etc.. It is obvious that leadership programs produce results! So tell us more about this program, please?
– While the SWT program is funded by the participants themselves, the IVLP Program is funded by Department of State grants. As a grants program, it is the Department’s premier short-term professional development exchange.I ts goal is to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. Participants in this program are current or emerging leaders in government, politics, the media, education, the arts, business and other key fields. Over 5,000 International Visitors come to the United States from all over the world each year. Individuals are selected and nominated annually by American Foreign Service Officers at U.S. Embassies around the world.
What is the vision, the mission of all this programs?
– By bringing people from across the world together with American people, community, and culture, we bridge our differences, while building lasting partnerships and mutual understanding. People-to-people diplomacy is at the heart of American foreign relations. The ultimate goal is to make the world a safer, more secure place for everyone.
Should education be the base, where different cultures, different countries meet each other, get better mutual understanding through global learning?
– As you describe, education is a wonderful platform for exchange programs. Our J-1 exchange programs build on classroom educational experiences and use work-type opportunities as an enabler of cultural exchange. Such opportunities include our trainee, research scholar, alien physician, secondary school teachers, and au pair J-1 visa programs.
What is your personal educational philosophy?
– Education is incredibly important and can come through a variety of ways, including studying, travelling, and learning through work. These are all forms of education and I’m very happy to be working on exchange programs that facilitate these activities.
I found this quote on the Internet. Famous movie director Milos Forman has said, “Everyone in the world has two homes, the place they grew up in and America.” Can we still say that the USA is the easiest and most accommodating country for people of different cultures and newcomers?
– The United States is an amazingly open and diverse country and we always will be. My experience with this diversity began as a young child when my family hosted our first high school exchange student. He taught my family so much and he was a different person when he left at the end of the year. I have lived in many, many countries since then and I always feel proud when someone says to me “Are you American? I love American people!” We love welcoming visitors, and it makes us the great country that we are and also makes people feel like America is their second home. (D.C.)