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WORLD FOCUS: Open world program

December 14, 2012

Novosibirsk, and its satellite city, Akademgorodok, the educational and scientific centre of Siberia, was a long way from Red Square for Col. Daniel Malone of Williamsburg, when he was serving as U. S. military attach in Moscow, during the height of the Cold War.

Recently, however, he was one of the hosts to a delegation of professionals from Novosibirsk, Russia, who visited Williamsburg, as part of the Open World program.

According to the website of the Open World Center, the program was enacted by the U. S. Congress in 1999 and administered by the Library of Congress, has already brought to the United States 17,000 young leaders from countries of the former Soviet Union. They are legislators, judges, educators and other professionals. They come here to get to know the real America, and return home with down-to-earth practical ideas, such as publishing city council meeting schedules in local newspapers, and lofty ones, such as understanding the importance of judicial impartiality to the rule of law.

The Open World program is considered one of the most effective U. S. exchange programs for countries of the post-Soviet era. It helps to establish professional relationships between the up-and-coming leaders and their American counterparts. It also showcases American values and democratic institutions.

Local organizations are awarded grants to host delegations. They include universities, community colleges and service organizations, such as Rotary clubs. Already, some 6,500 American families have hosted participants in the Open World program in more than 1,900 communities around the country.

One of them was Williamsburg. It hosted recently a six-member delegation affiliated with the Novosibirsk State University, one of the top four research universities in Russia.

"Their main interests have been technology in education, and volunteerism," said Daniel Malone, a member of the James City County Rotary, who hosted the delegates at the Williamsburg Landing, a retirement community.

He added, "The group wanted to learn about volunteerism in America. We arranged a program which presented volunteerism in multiple directions - from William & Mary from the Christopher Wren Association, from Landing out into the community. A question from one of the Delegates encapsulates their impression "Is this typical of all America, or is this just Williamsburg?"

The Russian delegation arrived with well formulated objectives, and the Williamsburg hosts focused on providing a rich menu to choose from. Colonial Williamsburg served as a unique historical center for explaining and interpreting American democracy and citizenship, Malone's wife, Anne, prepared a day by day schedule that involved places and events, "so that citizen diplomacy could be carried out to the maximum."

It included a visit to Thomas Nelson Community College, to the high-tech Rita Welch Adult Center, housing the "Literacy for Life" program, to a Rotary Club meeting, School of Education, the Mason School of Business, Christopher Newport University, the Mariners' Museum and Jamestown Settlement.

Summing up their impressions gathered during visits at educational institutions, a member of the delegation said, "The educational environment and technology here was really made for students and for the educational process." Another reflected on volunteerism in the United States. "I didn't understand how big it is. I think this is one of the things that make America strong."

In a humorous vein, one observed, "You are eating food between two pieces of bread. Sandwiches are everywhere." But invitations to a host family barbecue, a specially arranged Thanksgiving Dinner and Pizza Party, may have changed this impression.

What did Dan and Anne Malone observe as the difference in these young Russians from when they were posted to the U. S. Embassy in Moscow?

"The differences are striking," Malone said. "Back than, a similar group of academic professionals would be sullen, silent, and avoid standing out in the crowd. Select Party officials, like Georgi Arbatov and his Institute of the USA and Canada typified the exceptions. But it was their assigned job, and there were plenty of KGB observers to keep watch on them."

Malone pointed out that the Russian visitors to Williamsburg, could not ask enough questions and did not hesitate to contribute to discussions, "They were individuals exercising personal initiatives, involved in highly personalized interaction with their hosts and lecturers. They will help their countrymen go far!"

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.



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