Russian exchange programs enhance diplomatic, business ties

March 23, 2011
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In a world dictated by the ebb and flow of public diplomacy, how can we account for the development of future leaders? Two Russian exchange programs tackle this issue head-on with extraordinary results.

Open World brings American minds to Russia

In November 2010, the Russian Federal Agency on Youth Affairs, in a nominations process facilitated by the Open World Leadership Center, brought its first official American student government delegation to Russia since 1989. Though the Open World program has brought over 13,000 Russians to the U.S. through various Russian exchange programs, this initiative is particularly significant because the program was fully funded by the Russian Federal Agency on Youth Affairs, indicating a growing interest in the cultivation of future globally-minded leaders, both at home and abroad.

The program exposes young American leaders to the highest level of Russian politics and provides participants with a unique opportunity to connect with their contemporaries at Russian universities. The students discuss everything from politics and diplomacy to pop culture, fostering a cross-cultural understanding as students’ personal investment in Russia grows dramatically from the exchange.

Johnny Bowman, a program participant, described his experience as “absolutely incredible” and emphasized the program’s value in enhancing future Russian-U.S. collaboration. Bowman noted that Russian exchange programs are, “a great way to get young Americans interested in Russia and building businesses there and bringing the best of what America has to offer to the region.”

Bowman continued, “Most students are looking for an exciting opportunity to go abroad, but are not aware of what Russia has to offer. I think in many ways Russia has the best of both worlds because so few young people are tapping its resources and there are a lot of opportunities to be had… so the potential for growth is vast.”

On a diplomatic level, Bowman noted, “There’s a lot of things I didn’t understand about Russia that I understand now. Realizing the importance of stability over democratic reform— which is what Western media and certainly American press stresses—was eye opening for me.”

The Fulbright Program facilitates international educational exchange

Another student exchange partnership that is thriving in Russia is the Fulbright Program, which now offers 20 Fulbright Full Grants, 20 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships and a Critical Language Enhancement Award each year.

Fulbright scholar Vasily Ivanov came to Clemson University to continue his post graduate research about automotive engineering. Despite the difficult adjustment to the southern heat, Ivanov’s experience at Clemson thus far has been positive, and the exchange has provided lessons on and off campus. Regarding Russian-U.S. relations, Ivanov believes, “Each country can gain a lot from one another, even though sometimes it may be difficult for Americans to understand Russians and vice versa.”

“I think [Fulbright] is very important because here I can communicate with Americans and I can understand their cultural mentalities, and they also can communicate with me and have an idea who Russians are, what they are thinking about. People can understand each other better when they communicate face-to-face.”

Beyond students: Open World brings Russian professionals to the U.S.

The Open World Leadership Center has also been bringing emerging Russian leaders and professionals to the U.S. to experience American government and policy initiatives since 1999. In thinking how Russian exchange programs can be a potent political tool, Open World Executive Director Ambassador John O’Keefe told Modern Russia:

“…The future lies in this rising generation born shortly before and after the Russian Federation emerged from the former Soviet Union. As the U.S. students who traveled to Russia have mentioned, they were born after the Cold War was over, and they don’t carry that baggage. In the same way, we think linking that same generation of young Russian leaders to U.S. counterparts will create a very positive atmosphere for cooperation founded on understanding and respect.”

What do you think is most significant about Russian exchange programs? In what additional ways can Russian-U.S. relations change through cross-cultural exchange?

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