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June 29, 09

NEWS / United States-Russian Exchanges Boost Mutual Understanding

By Carlos Aranaga
Staff Writer

Washington — During the Cold War, Americans and Russians often saw each other through a filter of mistrust, despite their nations’ striking similarities as multicultural, multiethnic societies, each straddling a continent, with vast influence in their own regions. But since the emergence of an independent Russia, mistrust yields to understanding as mutual interests step to the fore.

Speaking at the Russia World Forum in Washington in April, U.S. Ambassador William J. Burns said, “Russians and Americans are probably now more connected through business, travel, education and science than at any time in our history. Russians made over 36 million trips abroad last year — 3 million of them to Europe and 175,000 of them to America, including 32,000 Russian students who participated in the Summer Work and Travel program.”

Burns, now the under secretary of state for political affairs, commented on the same theme in 2006 when he was ambassador to Russia: “Thousands of young Russians took part in exchange programs, and their experience was quite handy for the development of entrepreneurship in Russia. [Nongovernmental organization] representatives, doctors and civil servants studied the experience of their American colleagues in combating [the] HIV/AIDS epidemic. They learned from our achievements as well as our mistakes.”

People-to-people contacts over the years have included exchanges of students, scholars, scientists, professionals and cultural exhibitions, and many more Russians and Americans have gained personal experience of each other’s countries through tourist visits and business interactions.

U.S. government-supported exchanges include the Fulbright Program for both Russian and American citizens, and the Future Leaders Secondary School Exchange Program (FLEX), which brings Russian high school students to the U.S. to attend high school for a full academic year.

Private and corporate-supported exchanges include the ExxonMobil Russian Scholars Program for masters’ level study in the geosciences, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships in the humanities, and the Alcoa Foundation Program to support technical education inside of Russia.

After the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, there was a dip in international students coming to America, but the numbers are again rising. The Institute for International Education’s Open Doors report counted 623,805 international students in the United States in the 2007–2008 school year, a 7 percent gain from the previous year and an all-time high after the previous peak of 586,323 in 2002–2003. The report also counted 241,791 American students studying abroad, with 57.4 percent studying in Europe.

The statistics show 19.7 percent of international students specializing in management and business, and 17 percent studying engineering, while 21.4 percent of American students abroad were concentrating in the social sciences, with 19.1 percent studying management and business.

Bradley Gorski, Russia country coordinator for EducationUSA, says Russian students follow the trend, with business administration and engineering the two top fields. Other top subjects for U.S.-bound students are petroleum engineering and computer and hard sciences. EducationUSA has 14 advising centers in Russia giving exhaustive information on U.S. higher education opportunities.

As many as 70 percent of Russian university students in the United States are studying at the graduate level, Gorski said. As with other nations, the number of Russian students in the United States dropped in the early 2000s but has since begun to once again increase. Just before 2001, there were as many as 7,000 Russians studying in America, according to the Open Door statistics.

The new U.S. envoy to Russia, Ambassador John Beyrle, himself an exchange alumnus who studied at Leningrad State University in 1976, reported that there are now more than 5,000 Russians studying at U.S. universities, an increase over the last year, while there were 2,000 American students at Russian universities. “I hope to see these numbers continue to increase,” Beyrle said at an International Education Week event at the Moscow American Center.

Ambassador Beyrle noted that overall Russian student and scholar participation in the Fulbright Program, the oldest and best-known U.S. exchange program, has tripled in the last five years.

More than 5,000 Russians and Americans have taken part in programs such as the Fulbright. In 2006, the Russian Ministry of Education and the U.S. Department of Education agreed to expand educational cooperation and exchanges, calling for a partnership reflecting the best practices of the educational systems of both countries, boosting existing programs and promoting new ones.

Though prospects for Russian students in the United States are good, the high cost of higher education in the United States may cause numbers to lessen this year, in the context of the global economic downturn that has affected the Russian oil-based economy particular hard, according to Gorski.

Yet, he is hopeful: “While the cost issue might be hurting us more than it has in the past, I believe we are making progress on the other fronts. Russian students are still in demand in the U.S. They have a strong reputation in graduate schools across the country for their training in the technical disciplines. And more and more of them are looking for ways to globalize their knowledge base.”


Tags: secretary of state,


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