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US Official Praises International Exchange Programs


U.S. Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes says international exchange programs are the most effective and successful part of U.S. public diplomacy. She made her comments Thursday at the 2006 meeting of the National Council for International Visitors, a non-governmental organization that works in the United States to promote person-to-person exchange programs.

One of the top U.S. diplomats, Karen Hughes, said in less than one year on the job, she has been distressed to see that people in other parts of the world often have mistaken impressions of Americans.

"You'll ask them what do you value most and what do you think Americans value most? And there's a big disconnect. They say they value most faith and honor and honesty and family. Well, we value honor those things most too. If you ask Americans, that's what they value most. But if you ask people in different parts of the world, they'll say, "oh no, they value money and power and work," she said.

She said as she prepared for her job, one message she heard over and over was that exchange programs, which send Americans abroad and bring foreigners to the United States, have been the most effective and successful part of U.S. public diplomacy.

Hughes said this year, the State Department is aiming new initiatives at what she called "key influencers", which includes journalists, religious leaders, women and teachers. One of these is the Edward R. Murrow Journalism Program, which will start in the coming months. "This partnership will bring more than 100 international media professions to the United States, to work side by side with American journalists, and to attend classes at many of our outstanding institutions," she said.

She also pointed to a new initiative President Bush announced in January to promote the learning of foreign languages in the United States. "I'm always humbled, frankly, in Europe, when I'm at a dinner table and they go around and figure out, everyone else can communicate in four or five different languages and I have a little bit of Spanish and then, English. It's a humbling, we have to do a better job. I wish I had done a better job earlier in my life learning other languages"

The U.S. official acknowledged that this is what she described as a "challenging" time for foreigners who want to come to the United States. "We had trouble with visas in the immediate aftermath of September 11, and we're working on it. We've made substantial improvements and we need to continue to get the message out that we welcome people to come to America," she said.

She described one memorable encounter she had last year. "I was in a low-income housing neighborhood in Turkey, where there's a wonderful community program for children after school, and I was visiting with people there. And this young man looked at me, and he said, 'does the Statue of Liberty still face out?' And, it broke my heart."

Hughes said the United States still welcomes all international visitors, be they students, tourists, family members or business people. She said in the meantime, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are working to improve and streamline the visitor process.