4:00 P.M. EDT
NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. For those of you who are visiting us for the first time, we are part of the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs, and our role is to assist foreign correspondents who are based here in New York with their coverage of the U.S. Government, economy, and society.
Today we are pleased to be joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange Robin Lerner, whom you’ve all met. The program annually brings some 280,000 foreign citizens to the U.S. to study, build skills, and teach. And so to that end, we’re also joined by 12 Exchange Visitor Program participants from a number of different countries. You’ll meet them later, and I’ll turn it over to DAS Lerner to begin.
MS. LERNER: Well, thank you. And I’m glad we had a little moment, you all who are listening in. We got to talk a little bit. But thanks for coming. This is – today we have a chance to talk about one of our most popular tools of what we call people-to-people diplomacy. So people-to-people diplomacy is something that comes under the umbrella of public diplomacy. And public diplomacy is a very important tool in our foreign policy toolbox. And we basically describe it or define it as how we connect people of the United States with people around the world and how we communicate with foreign publics, how the State Department communicates with foreign publics around the world. It’s really apparent, I think, to all government leaders now that if you’re not talking to the people of a country, you’re not talking to anybody.
So the State Department has been very active in public diplomacy for many, many years. And some of the ways we do public diplomacy is we have ways that people from other countries can come into the United States on specific programs. We send Americans out on speaker programs, on arts programs. We send them all over the United – all over the world, in different countries. And we have lots of different kind of programs that we do to bring artistic groups here to the United States and get Americans out in order that people can share ideas with one another. One of the most important things that we can do is break down prejudices that Americans might have toward foreign countries and break down the prejudices foreign publics will have about the United States. And the most important way we do that is bringing people together. So that’s what we do in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – call it ECA – at the State Department. And we spend all day every day talking about how we can bring people together, and that’s people-to-people.
I specifically oversee something called the Exchange Visitor Program. Now, people in other countries will know this as the J-1, because that’s the name of the visa that is our cultural exchange visa. And that J-1 visa is really the tool that we use to bring people in to do programs in the United States. But in the Exchange Visitor Program, there are 13 ways, 13 different kinds of programs, that people can come, can do in the United States, totally without State Department funding. These are called privately funded, self-funded, or funded outside U.S. Government funds. People can come and do specific programs.
For example – this might be getting confusing – we have developed over the years specific kinds of programs. Like we know that the State Department can’t pay for 275,000, 280-, 300,000 people to come on a program in the United States every year. But we know that if we develop a mechanism for people to come and engage with an entity in the United States, be it an American company or a nonprofit or a foreign company that’s operating here but doing – working with Americans, if we create a way for those foreign participants to be able to find a placement in the United States and for an American entity to find a foreign person that they want to work with, then they will come together on their own. And that accomplishes our goals of people-to-people coming together.
So in the Exchange Visitor Program, we have an international teacher program, for example. So teachers around the world can work in a public school as a teacher, a functioning teacher for up to three years, and they get totally immersed in how – in an American pedagogy. We have a high school program, right? It’s your dream to come and spend a year in the United States at a school. They get fully immersed in their school. We have professors – we have foreign professors who can work at a university. Research scholars – that’s really the biggest numbers of people that are coming on this program are probably research scholars, professors, university students. The academic categories draw a lot of people into the United States every year.
And then we also have the side which is young people that are coming to gain a professional experience, and that is literally what the Intern and Training Program is. And there don’t always have to be young people. But we were – we understand that people want to come from other countries to learn in the United States, but learn professionally, or exchange professional ideas.
We have a lot that is special about the United States – American ingenuity, entrepreneurship. So much of our American enterprise, people want to learn from. So we have a program called Intern and Trainee. And interns can come, and we have interns here today who will talk about their program. They can be university students or within one year of graduation. And then we have the trainee program which is people with – they’re either – they can be students or have five years of professional experience. And they’re coming, they’re really exchanging ideas with each other and working together.
So we love these programs because we actually let – people can come and have a significant time. We have people who are here 6 months, 12 months, 18 months. And they certainly couldn’t come and be a tourist for 18 months. I mean, that would – only a small number of people in the world could come and live for 18 months being a tourist. This way they get to make a stipend, they’re contributing to a company, and the company is contributing back to their experience. And we get out of the way and let good things happen.
So one of the things that I love the most about the way people can come in on the Exchange Visitor Program is that they have to have a certain level of English before they come, but at the end of it, they’re English is vastly improved. And that is good for American business. It’s just good for us. It’s good for us to have people who understand our language and understand the way we do business, right? That’s hugely important. So many misunderstandings happen within the first couple minutes of meeting somebody, right? If you accidentally – you insult somebody accidentally because you don’t understand their culture, you’re going to do business with them. You’re not going to work with them. So having a mechanism for people to come and learn how we do things here, that’s better, because Americans are very, like, get to business kind of people. And we don’t stop and chitchat and drink tea and – no, we just get straight to business. And that can really insult people. That can rub people the wrong way. So this way, people get to know us up close and personal.
So I’m going to let everybody – just going to go around the table and just introduce themselves and say where they’re from and who they’re working with, and then we’ll get more specific about their programs.
MS. SANCHEZ: I am Isabel Sanchez, and I am working with SITI Company theater.
MS. LERNER: And where are you from?
MS. SANCHEZ: I’m from Spain.
MS. LERNER: Although I suppose it is written right there, but not everybody can see. (Laughter.)
MS. SCHUNCK: Yeah, my name is Lisa Schunck. I am from Hamburg, Germany, and I work for Axel Springer Group. It’s Europe’s largest media company. So we work with print, TV, online (inaudible).
MS. VITALI: My name is Francisca Compan Vitali. I am from Chile, and I am doing my internship at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.
MS. KEYAMO: My name is Ochuko Keyamo. I’m from Nigeria, currently working with GBCHealth, a nonprofit organization based in New York here.
MS. SALAMANCA: My name is Juana Estefania Echandia Salamanca. I’m from Colombia, and I work at Marc Jacobs as a fashion brand in design.
MR. STEINFORTH: My name is Julian Steinforth. I’m from Germany as well, and I’m working at a small PR agency in downtown Brooklyn.
MS. LERNER: No, he made it to Brooklyn. He made it to New York. (Laughter.)
MS. LERNER: Who’s next? I think --
MR. ASPANA (ph): Is that me?
MS. LERNER: Yeah.
MR. ASPANA (ph): I’m undercover here. (Laughter.) I’m Atian Aspana (ph). I’m from Germany, and I work for a company which produces dental equipment, especially here in New York, the (inaudible).
MR. SPAHN: My name is Alexander Spahn. I am as well from Germany. I work for Noise NY Marketing. It’s a little marketing and digital agency, and we focus on the target group of the millennials, so from 16 to 34, 35.
MR. BRAEUNIG: Hi. My name is Eugen – or Eugene, whatever is easier. (Laughter.) I’m kind of used to the double identity by now. I’m from Berlin, Germany and I just started here with a film production company called Show of Force two months ago, and before that I studied visual communication in Germany and got some first work experience there, and then now I’m here till next year.
MS. LERNER: Great, thank you.
MS. KOH: Hi. My name is Wan-Ching Koh. I’m from Singapore. Like Isabel, we’re training with SITI Company, which is a theater company in New York.
MR. ROBBLES: Hi. I’m Nikko Robbles. I’m originally from the Philippines and I work for Thomson Reuters, which is a financial data services and media company. I am part of the business graduate program and essentially I’m a trainee as well.
MS. CHAN: Hi. I’m Haylie Chan and I’m from Toronto, Canada. I’m also with Francisca at Kohn Pedersen Fox as an architectural intern.
MS. LERNER: That’s great. And just a couple of statistics that I should give our journalists: So in 2013, we had about 280,000 people that came through the different categories of J-1visa. They actually come from over 200 countries and territories, so this is truly – we’re drawing globally. People are – there is almost not a country where – I mean, okay, there’s a couple countries that are not very international, but pretty much we have almost country somebody – at least one person that’s coming. Eighty-six percent of those participants that are coming are under the age of 30, so we’re really trying to tap into youth, and 53 are women or girls. So it’s – those hit some of the specific targets of the State Department, which is really to engage with youth and have a way to have a meaningful interaction with youth around the world.
Entrepreneurship is a huge sort of point of interest for the State Department. Right now, we’re trying to talk about entrepreneurship around the world. President Obama and the Secretary have been really promoting with foreign governments entrepreneurship, and how do we create systems in other countries that promote entrepreneurship and that foster that in their home countries. And so what I like about this program is that it gives people a little flavor of you can just look around, especially in a place like New York, how good ideas happen and how people take ideas to scale. And even if you didn’t think that that’s what you were coming for, you’re going to get something out of that just by being in this vibrant atmosphere.
Targeting women and girls is really, really important for us because up until today, which things might – we might have to not target men and boys – but up until today, that women and girls have been underserved or underrepresented in a lot of our programs, and so we made a real effort. And what makes me very pleased is that through these private sector programs, we’re seeing everybody’s coming. So it’s almost half and half, which is nice.
Anyway, I thought I would sort of kick off and just ask and maybe just a couple people, whoever feels like answering. I think it’d be important to sort of talk about why you chose to come to the United States for a program. And if it was because you wanted to come to the U.S. or because it was for the specific company or organization that you’re working with, but why did you come – decide to come to the U.S.? What was it – what was the draw that brought you?
MS. KEYAMO: All right. Before I came here, I was actually working for a nonprofit organization that deals with women and children in malaria, fighting malaria in Africa, and it was a lot of challenge. And my (inaudible) organization, currently GBCHealth, they actually work with corporate organizations to fight malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV in Africa and in Asia as well. And my role as a fellow in this organization is the program manager for the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa. So I felt I could add value to this organization because the area where I’m from, (inaudible), that’s where we have malaria budding (ph). In America, you don’t have malaria right here. And I feel I can give them a (inaudible) to (inaudible) to really affect lives over – because that’s what you’re doing right now. And I also know I’ll be able to learn from them as well.
And so far my experience has been very amazing. I have a dream of running a nonprofit organization, like five years from now. And I know coming here I will have a lot of experience to learn from like in terms of leadership and communication skills and project management skills. I’ve been able to enhance that so far since I came here. And also, I’ve been able to -- (inaudible) connection I need. I’ve been able to work with the likes of WHO, roll back (ph) malaria (inaudible) since I came here. And I feel it will help me in my future endeavors.
So yeah, those are the things I looked before coming here, and so far I’ve been able to achieve them and still achieving more.
MS. LERNER: I’m so happy. Thank you.
Ms. SALAMANCA: Well, I’m a fashion designer. Well, I’m studying still. But obviously New York is one of the capital cities of the world in fashion, so my goal was to always come here at some point, either in my studies or just like in this kind of program. But to be honest, like, Marc Jacobs was such a dream come true. It’s such a big brand, you’ll never think you’ll have the opportunity, especially me because I come from a small country – well, it’s not small, but in sense of, like, technology advances and stuff like that. And I think people underestimate people from Latin America and Colombia. I don’t know.
Like, I feel that I wanted to come here and just make people change their minds about how Colombia really is, like, what we can offer the world and stuff. And at the same time, like, I wanted to practice my English and just to bring all of the skills that you see here in the fashion brands in New York back to my country, because we are not like that developed in fashion, really, like, breath fashion like you do here. So I just wanted to, like – to get this experience and go back home and be able to transform it in a way that I can actually make Colombia a little bit more into fashion and just, yeah, develop better things.
MS. LERNER: That’s great. Anybody else want to contribute?
MR. ROBBLES: I can. So yeah – so initially I’m part of Thomson Reuters business graduate program. And being a multinational company, we have a very big thrust towards, like, globalization and really leveraging on the skills of everyone around the world. We’re, like, more than 100 countries or something. And being part of a graduate program, it’s a rotational program and this is part of the rotation.
Choosing New York was kind of like weird because the Philippines is not – like, the cultural proximity of the Philippines to the United States is undeniable. So I was like, hmm, New York, let’s see. But I think what really attracted me was the fact that all of this media, and I think which you actually mentioned, is that it portrays New York as a very dynamic, almost like monstrous city which will change your perspective about financial services and everything and will have this like work culture which is weird. And I was like, yeah, I should try that out. And by far, I’ve really, really found it a very interesting experience.
And normally, you go to different countries. I’ve lived in the UK and you have a very different perspective. Like, you go to Paris, you have a different perspective. And you look at American culture and it makes you question, what is American culture? And I guess, like, you see all of these – and actually the normal dealings which you have with normal Americans, with how they deliver with their work, and I think that’s a very important aspect of American culture which I’m sure everyone has experienced here, which would have been very different had I chosen to go to London or had I chosen to go to Paris or something. So I think that’s interesting.
MS. LERNER: That’s great, that’s great.
MR. SPAHN: I can tell the same, then. Okay. So New York is also like the capital city for marketing, media, and young people. It’s very vibrant and very developed, and all the technology and things. So since I’m working for marketing and media agency, it’s a great deal to be here in the city where everything happens and new things are kind of developed besides California where also it’s like a very important city for all these things. So that’s why I choose New York and also to develop, improve my language skills. And yeah, just to live in such a great city and such a nice country, yeah.
MS. LERNER: Did you – have your language skills improved, do you think?
MR. SPAHN: Yeah.
MS. LERNER: Yeah?
MR. SPAHN: But I studied one semester in Santa Barbara before (inaudible).
MS. LERNER: Okay. Good. So now you have two accents.
MR. SPAHN: It was different experience here.
MS. LERNER: Yeah. Well, I don’t – I want to let journalists ask questions. If anybody has any otherwise, I can just --
MODERATOR: Sure, please.
QUESTION: I have a technical question and a political question. The technical one is: If somebody wants to come for a short unpaid internship, do they need a visa? And the political question is: If there are sanctions on certain people, like in Ukraine, in Russia, does that mean their children cannot get into this program and to get the J-1 visa?
MS. LERNER: So first and foremost, if you’re going to come for any purpose other than tourism, then you should get a visa. And sometimes, these internships, they can be unpaid if you’re getting credit for them. Otherwise, there should be at least a stipend that is paid for.
So – and if somebody that – if you’re talking about somebody you know – if they already have a place, I mean, I think you’ll hear a lot of these people actually found their own placements, and then they worked with an American sponsor organization to help them get their visa and then understand really what the program is about. Because we’ve added a lot – we have a lot of goals for the program that not necessarily everybody that coming on the program they have the same goals, right? They want to work. We want to make sure that they learn about American values and culture that it just comes into their program and then they go home. So it’s really to the benefit of somebody to work with an American sponsor and get the full program out of it.
Second, we talked about this earlier, I think, with – before everybody – before the program started. A visa is something that is very specific how – the process that goes through for someone to get a visa. And it’s defined in law and then there are – it’s very proscribed. So every embassy will take a – they would do an individualized determination of the person based on whatever’s out there, and there are a lot of different laws that our consular officers have to look at.
QUESTION: Just to follow up to the second question, some of the countries that you don’t have embassy at, what happens to the students or people who live there and want to come here to them? What happens to them? And also, some countries, especially in the developing world, girls can’t even go to school most of the time because of the culture or concerns. Do you reach out to those people, and what do you tell them to convince them that it’s okay?
MS. LERNER: So a lot of questions in there.
MS. LERNER: The first one is we – if we don’t have an embassy someplace, we generally have an interests section with another embassy. And that – it would be country specific about whether or not they’re doing visas or not. So if we don’t process a visa out of a certain country, then there’s going to be another country that those people can go to for the processing of visas. So that’s out there. If you look at our websites and things, it will describe that.
So this program in particular, because we’re trying to make it – we have these different categories where it’s sort of a win/win for both sides. We are targeting people who are coming for a specific purpose, and often it’s students or people who are in academia or have graduated. So there is a certain level that this program really targets, but we have – the State Department has – and USAID have huge programs that do exactly what you said, targeting girls in underserved countries. And that would be more on our development side so that would be U.S. Agency for International Development.
We also do have a number of exchange programs that will try to – that really do get into underserved, and those would be probably more through our grants program, where the State Department pays. We have an excellent program that operates in many, many countries called the Access English Language Program. And that’s a program that works in – for example, this one is – I think in any – it targets students that are in Muslim-majority countries or in Muslim populations where it’s an afterschool program where people can – the kids can go and learn English. And they start at – I think like middle school at that age, and they keep going up through high school. And then those kids often get their – they’re very strong applicants for some of our high school exchange programs that we fund. So we try to create a continuum of programs for that category.
But I think even more important are programs that we do in country, right? And you work with the whole family, and that’s more on the development side.
QUESTION: Well, out of those 12 interns, how many interns are paid and how many are (inaudible)? That’s our number one question.
MS. LERNER: How many are paid and how many --
QUESTION: How many interns out of 12 are paid interns and how many are nonpaid interns?
MS. LERNER: Okay.
QUESTION: My second question is I like to know a little more about the finance. Who pays for the trip to the United States and who finds apartment and living costs?
MS. LERNER: That’s a really good question. These folks can speak for themselves on who’s paid and who’s not, but let me just tell you the general. Every program is different. So in some cases you’re probably going to hear from everybody here a different model. Sometimes I think through this executive trainingship there’ll be something prescribed in Reuters that they offer for this entre program. Some, for example – our Atlas Corps, she’s a (inaudible) program that comes under private sector but she’s a fellow, and that organization gets outside funding and they find placements that are funded placements. So maybe you paid something into it or you have to augment, but she’s also getting outside funding.
Most of these are going to get at least stipends, right? Is anybody fully unfunded? I think everybody gets a stipend or --
MS. SALAMANCA: No.
MS. LERNER: No? Okay. But you’re getting credit at your university.
MS. SALAMANCA: Yeah.
MS. LERNER: So either they’re getting – it’s part of their student – or they’re getting a stipend. And then it – I mean, in privately funded you will often see people do contribute to the cost of their exchange so – because it’s a program that they have value in participating in.
QUESTION: Regarding work (inaudible) I believe it covers mostly J1 visas, right?
MS. LERNER: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How many students came to the U.S. last year --
MS. LERNER: On --
QUESTION: -- and what are the tops? And also is there any monitoring system that – because we are getting complaints from Turkey or other Eastern European countries that they have issues here and they became, like, illegal without the knowledge. So do you have any monitoring system when they come to the States?
MS. LERNER: Right. So summer work travel is another one of the 13 categories, and that has been the largest program that the State Department has. So in 2008, I believe, 150,000 people came. We have shrunk that program down to half its size. Last year there was about 80,000 people that came. And for everybody that – for those that don’t know, summer work travel or work and travel is a program that targets university students only during their university years or their final year they can come that summer. They can come for a summer to work in a seasonal job and save up money and travel for 30 days, and that’s all during their academic break.
Since I’ve been at the State Department, we – I mean, even before I started, since 2010 the Department has really been regulating strongly that program. So they passed two new regulations and we’ll have another – we have another one forthcoming that there is a strong monitoring system in place. Sponsors have to do monthly monitoring of their participants. Every job placement is vetted and verified by American sponsors and also by – we also have a program of – a system of verifying every job.
We actually monitor – State Department folks go out and around all summer. We did 800 last year and the year before, 800 specific site visits, reaching thousands of people to see how the program is going. We have a 1-800 toll-free hotline that people can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We also have a dedicated email address that people can write to us. But their first stop is always their American sponsor. So the American sponsors need to be responsive. And the partners that our American sponsors are working with in those countries, they need to be working closely together. And we’re very much looking at that relationship now between foreign partners and American sponsors, and we want the word to get out to participants of that program you’ve got to go to your sponsor, you’ve got to talk to your sponsor if you’re having problems because we can take action against an American sponsor. And the sponsor – we call sponsors really an exchange organization that they’re the ones who do – they match the people up with their placements.
Thank you. That program though, just to say, it’s such a popular program because it offers – not everybody can come and do such a long program that you all are doing, and it gives university students this chance to use their summer to really increase their English language through on-the-job training. It’s very important that we stay closely – we look very closely at those placements and we go around every summer and visit people. But as a mechanism it’s really brilliant because university students – they don’t have to pay much to come and they get to come for a long time and meet – I mean, for three to four months – meet people from all over the world and make lasting American friends. And some – I don’t know, maybe some people here had done work and travel before coming, or they knew people. And often you see people coming for work and travel and then following up an internship or a trainingship for another way to come for a longer period of time.
QUESTION: For a student, a college student who has never been to the United States, how could they find an American sponsor?
MS. LERNER: So the best thing to do is to – we have our website called J1Visa.state.gov – it’s J1visa, singular – and on there – and this is kind of hard because on there is listed all of our sponsors. But if you go into a particular country and you kind of google work and travel that country, you’re going to find the foreign partners that work there. You always want to look and see what American sponsor they’re working with to make sure that they have a partnership. And you can always contact the American sponsor with questions. But all the designated sponsors – the official organizations that are allowed to work on this from the American side – are all listed on our website. They don’t all work in every country, so in some cases, it’s worth also Googling the U.S. embassy in that country and asking them if they know.
So I guess I would sort of ask everybody or people to offer, what are you going to do when you go back home with this experience? What’s it going to do to contribute to your career and your life? You want to say something?
MS. BARRENA: Yeah. Go on with our theatrical career and – either in our country and in the links that all the international artists that we are meeting, the work we are creating, improving – definitely improving the strength, trying to improve the strength of a universal context for theater in the world as a place for civilization and humanity to be questioned and shared, which is tremendously important for us as artists and for me as a person, I think, in the world now. Continuing the dialogue with the fellow artists that are in the program; expanding real, concrete professional stages of our relationships; and keeping faith, moving on. (Laughter.)
MS. LERNER: Anybody else want to (inaudible)?
MS. KEYAMO: Yeah. When I get – like I said (inaudible) previously in my (inaudible) organization to work with the private sector to fight diseases like malaria and HIV in Africa, and so far I have been able (inaudible) some level of partnership with these companies like Shell, Chevon, ExxonMobil, oil companies in Africa. And so when I get back, I hope to leverage on what I’ve already – the connections I have to start a program to involve the private sector in fighting diseases in Africa – in my country in general, and in particular, like malaria. So I have the contacts right now and I want to get them involved in fighting this disease.
And also in the nearest future, like I said, five years from now, hopefully, I’ll have my NGO and set up an NGO to work around this.
MS. LERNER: That’s great.
MS. KEYAMO: That’s what I hope to do when I get back.
MS. LERNER: Anybody else want to talk about what they’re going to do with this experience?
MS. LERNER: Our intrepid participant.
MR. ASPANA (ph): It will help me to see the bigger picture to work in different countries because I worked in China before and in Germany and now in the U.S.
MS. LERNER: Interesting.
MR. ASPANA (ph): And it was always – I always worked with a lot of different people in these countries, mainly in the manufacturing department or in the supply chain management department, and it gives me a really good comparison between how to talk to people and how to reach the people to explain things or to learn from them. And as I want to work internationally afterwards, that is the missing part, like the U.S., for working.
MS. LERNER: It’s interesting that you chose China and the United States. Are you – do you also speak Mandarin or --
MR. ASPANA (ph): I try.
MS. LERNER: You tried, okay.
MR. ASPANA (ph): Well, but I failed also. (Laughter.) Yes, I worked three month in South China and I had an internship for six month in Shanghai, but yeah, it was not long enough to remember --
MS. LERNER: Right.
MR. ASPANA (ph): -- or to still speak Chinese.
MS. LERNER: Did you use English, then, or --
MR. ASPANA (ph): Yeah.
MS. LERNER: Okay.
MR. ASPANA (ph): English, hands, feet. (Laughter.)
MS. LERNER: Not German. So how important is English to – I mean, to – was perfecting English a motivation for people?
MR. STEINFORTH: Yeah, I would say especially amongst those students. When I go back, I still have to finish my Bachelor. And for my Bachelor theses --
MS. LERNER: Thesis.
MR. STEINFORTH: -- thesis, we actually have to use, like, 50 percent of English sources as well, so I guess there, like, it will help me pretty much to improve, like, writing skills and just to understand all the literature and the sources that are actually in English right now.
MS. LERNER: Right. Well, now, you sound like you --
MS. SALAMANCA: Well, I think English is the language of the future, like it’s the language you’re going to be, like, doing business and at the end of the day. So I think everybody has, like, to know at least a little bit of English. And I know, like, being here – I went in Colombia – you just go to the same high school your entire life, so it was like a bilingual school. So while I was in school, I did practice my English, but then I went to college and that all stopped. So it’s very good to be here and now be able to speak in English again and just recover what I lost before.
MS. LERNER: Right. So did you – are you going to open your own fashion line when you get home?
MS. SALAMANCA: Well, I’m not sure yet. Like, it’s a very competitive market, so I would like to work with a designer back home. And to be honest, I just think that having Marc Jacobs on my resume is – hopefully, is going to open doors for me that couldn’t be opened before.
MS. LERNER: Great.
MS. KOH: I think for me what was really valuable is – I’m so sorry --
MS. LERNER: No, no, no. (Laughter.)
MS. KOH: -- was that – yes, English, we use it in the training, but at the same time, the company supported the diversity of the participants, and everybody – sometimes in training, we speak in our own languages. We have somebody from Korea, we have somebody from Spain and Singapore, and then we also have somebody from Finland. It’s an amazing group of intercultural – many different cultures, many different countries – artists who have been working very hard and who come here to share not just the language of English, but the language of theater. What does it mean to create art, what does it mean to communicate in a difficult environment when you may not have – you may not be able to speak what you really want to say. But how do we find another way of going about creating work? Yeah. So more important to me, that was what was really valuable – the meetings of spirits and philosophies, yeah.
MS. LERNER: That’s wonderful. I think we could all use that in our workplaces. I mean, it’s – you want to say something?
MS. NAMUKOSE: Yeah. Hi, everyone. I’m currently serving at Women Deliver. It’s an NGO that focuses on global advocacy for women’s maternal health rights and culture and education. So when I came here – it’s been three months so far – my experience has been amazing because I came from a background of implementing projects from a grass root level. We are going to communities. The funders give us the money back in the Third World country – I’m from Uganda – so what we do, we go to the communities, we implement these projects, we (inaudible) communities. And we were working at that grass root level.
So when I came to Women Deliver, these are people who work with global change agents, they work with policymakers. So I’m coming with that experience from the – on ground to come to a policymaking level to see how leaders come to – come up with these decisions, come up with laws that later governments take on and adopt, and how advocates are playing a very important role in changing the way societies are addressing those – these key issues. So when I look at the way my experience is going to be, I’m going to be here for a year, and I hope that by the end of my training, it’s going to value – it’s going to help me in the way I’m going to implement my (inaudible) projects and the work I want to do later on. So I think it’s going to be pretty great (ph). Thanks.
MS. LERNER: Did you choose Women Deliver or did you want to just find an organization in the United States that was doing something similar?
MS. NAMUKOSE: My background is public relations and communications work, so when I was looking for an organization that would take me, I wanted something that is challenging in a communication-specific (inaudible). So usually, UNESCO puts out profile. So Women Deliver looks at my background and my profile and they liked my background, so that’s how it came to be.
MS. LERNER: That’s great. That’s great. I don’t want to steal from the journalists, if anybody has any other questions.
QUESTION: Could you give us some numbers about which countries are – you said there are more than 200?
MS. LERNER: Oh, right.
QUESTION: I see here five people from Germany.
MS. LERNER: Right. (Laughter.) I know, I know. They’re taking over.
QUESTION: Which is (inaudible) country or --
MS. LERNER: So it’s funny because it really depends on the category, and it also – we also – we have a particular sponsor, I think, who has been – who helped invite people today who does a lot of recruiting from Germany. But overall, our largest countries – sending countries overall are going to be Ireland, China, Brazil – Ukraine is a big sender. I need my list.
MS. DEANER: Russia.
MS. LERNER: Russia. It also depends on which category we’re talking about too. If we look at just the high school program, for example, you will – Germany might be the largest sender of high school students. If you’re looking at the Au Pair program, that’s going to be another – and then Work and Travel is going to be another – if you break it down. But if we look writ large – Nicole is going to look for that for us.
QUESTION: Why Ireland?
MS. LERNER: Why Ireland? (Laughter.) That’s such a good question. So this – the J-1 visa exchange – the Exchange Visitor Program has been around for some 50 years. So Ireland has been a big utilizer of the programs, and I think Work and Travel largely was created 50 years ago with Ireland in mind. And they – we have such a close relationship with that country and people want to come and it’s almost in their fiber to come and do a program here. So they – there’s a lot of Work and Travel. They come – even though they’re a visa waiver country, but they come because they want to work for the summer. A lot of Intern Trainee – we have a special program with Ireland for internships. And they’re just – they really – they want to come. It’s in their patrimony to come to the United States, so --
QUESTION: Is there a limit for specific countries, or do you –
MS. LERNER: Nope. There’s no limit. The – what – the way this works – and again, this is – it’s the private – it’s privately funded, so it’s really we empower – although we set limits for these exchange organizations we call sponsors, we write the regulations they must abide by, but by designating them as a sponsor – and we re-designate them every two years, so we go through a review of them every two years – we empower them to work with partners around the world and try to – and find individuals that want to come. And the interesting thing is over the many decades, the program has evolved from who used to be the biggest user of it to who is now – and now, I mean, with 200 countries and territories, we’re really expanding around the world. It didn’t use to be like that. So we have opportunities for people that never – we never had such opportunities before. I mean, China is sort of an example of that, right? China’s a huge user of the program.
QUESTION: Let me just confirm the numbers. Two hundred countries and twenty – two hundred and eighty thousand students (inaudible)?
MS. LERNER: So it’s funny because our numbers change every year. So we had 275,000, is that it, last year?
MS. DEANER: About 276 [thousand] last year.
MS. LERNER: Last year. And that’s over all the different categories.
MS. LERNER: Now, when I give you these numbers, I’m not including any State Department-funded. These are all privately-funded, so outside-funded.
QUESTION: And that’s 276,000 students in 2013?
MS. LERNER: Not students, participants.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry.
MS. LERNER: Because they’re not all students.
QUESTION: I represent Japanese paper.
MS. LERNER: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So I’m curious, the – how it is with Japan? Does other – where does it run approximately?
MS. LERNER: Japan –
MS. DEANER: A little over 6,000 is about all.
MS. LERNER: A little over 6,000 total. So – and over the many different categories. I think they’re bigger on the – well, I shouldn’t say, I don’t know, but I think the academic side – I’ve looked at every country and – but I think they are not a lot of Work and Travel, for example, but more on the trainee side and then you’re going to see on the research scholar and maybe specialist side.
MS. DEANER: And students --
MS. LERNER: And students. We are – yeah, that – high school or university?
MS. DEANER: I think with both, actually. (Inaudible.)
MS. LERNER: Anyway, we’ll let them – yeah.
QUESTION: I see. So it’s mostly training and academics and –
MS. LERNER: We can talk – we can – right after.
QUESTION: All right.
Ms. LERNER: And Nicole can give you more specifics on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Hi, my name is Bukola Shonuga. I’m with Global Media. So I was just wondering – I spent last week several hours with former Secretary Hillary Clinton at an initiative called Global Development Lab. And it’s the platform to – the initiative is to use science and technology to eradicate poverty around the world. So since most of you are coming from different parts of the world, I was just wondering: In terms of social responsibility and social entrepreneurship and working for common good to change the world, what is the feel from the individual countries you guys are coming from? I mean, anyone can take that question.
In other words, is it more about – are you feeling the way the U.S. is moving now is about building capacity and collaborative work for the common good? So I’m just wondering from where you’re coming from, is it still about individualism, or is there a push in your whatever areas that work to create sustainable development for people? Do you understand? Is it long-winded? (Laughter.)
MS. LERNER: Are you basically asking, like, in their home countries --
MS. LERNER: -- what is the trend right now in their home country towards sustainable development and social responsibility, sort of pushing that as a global --
QUESTION: Right. Because I know they’re representing and you come for your different interests, and that’s fine. I’m just wondering, what is the common feel from the respective countries that you’re from? Is it for your own individual development --
MS. LERNER: Right.
QUESTION: -- or is there feel for building capacity?
MS. LERNER: For the global – for the common good, you mean, overall?
QUESTION: So just to clarify, how do you contextualize that with the program, how the program contributes to that?
MS. LERNER: Well, none --
QUESTION: This is going to be a dialogue.
MS. LERNER: More bigger picture.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) So for someone that’s coming for human rights, for instance -- that’s very clear. So if you’re for social justice, for instance, that’s something else. And if you’re a fashion design, are you more, like, you joined that for your own professional development, fine, but how does that impact the society at large in terms of creating jobs and creating awareness in whatever field you’re working? Is it clear or am I still –
MS. LERNER: But you’re not necessarily meaning how does this program do, but just their individual perspectives --
QUESTION: The individual experiences –
MS. LERNER: -- your individual perspectives – as professionals from your countries.
MR. ROBBLES: I can take off on that. I think, first and foremost, there’s a really strong push in my country, in the Philippines, towards, like, corporate social responsibility and a lot of social enterprises coming up and everything. And to a large extent, and trying to tie that in this program, and a very important aspect, actually, of the program is really for every one of us here to be going back to our countries and contributing in everything. And what I see most valuable is just the ingenuity of Americans and the liberal mindedness. Like you have this American dream perspective that – it’s skies the limit and everything. And if that kind of idea can just be given to people in more constrained countries as the Philippines – because, like, when you’re in an emerging market, you tend to be, like, basics first, don’t think, don’t be too risky. I think if you bring that idea going back, people will engage more beyond the basics, beyond the social – and beyond, like, I just have to get a 9-to-5 job, and just really infuse the idea of be risky, be more entrepreneurial, and – but entrepreneurial in a good sense, not the I want to eat you and just juice out all the money from you kind of entrepreneurship. (Laughter.)
MS. LERNER: That’s capitalistic.
MR. ROBBLES: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
MS. SALAMANCA: Well, that – you say about fashion design and, for example, in my country, most of the clothing for Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and stuff are made in Colombia. But then Colombians don’t really have the key opportunity to purchase, because they – the clothes back to the U.S. and then they gain a lot of money. Like, they are very expensive. So by my internship here, I just really interested in learning how the production in fashion works, and then be able to apply that in my home country, to be able – for it to – so that the fashion world, in a way, increases and to make more jobs and so that people can actually be able to buy things that they create, because it’s really weird for me and just to go to factories in Medellin, which is another city in Colombia, which is very into fashion, and people there just make jeans for Tommy Hilfiger. And you see them, and then nobody is going to be able to buy them afterwards just because a label is printed on them.
So I just want to create this culture in which, like, what the work we make actually values something is actually something that you can – like sometimes you just do the jeans and they don’t mean anything to you. But, like, I wanted to create, like, quality and to make Colombia feel different and in the production of fashion, which – because we have a lot of opportunities there. We have a lot of natural resources like creating cotton and silks, and things like that can be something that we could eventually develop. So I think if I can be able to apply some of the work I have been learning in production world, maybe I can change the perspective as being just a working class and just creating something else for a country --
MS. LERNER: For outside, but make it accessible for your people --
MS. SALAMANCA: Exactly. And not only accessible but just changing the state of mind of we are only working class; it is just creating the jeans and sewing them and then shipping them here. Maybe we can be the ones that actually sell them and create some things that are, like, accessible and for a very good quality and – yeah, just --
MS. LERNER: Perspective. I mean, you would be consuming them yourselves, too, that you would have a culture with --
MS. SALAMANCA: Yeah, it’s not only that you consume it yourself, but just change the state of mind that you just are the ones that are sewing the jeans, that actually you can create a brand out of it and create another state of mind, yeah. I don’t know.
MS. BARRENA: I like that. I’d also like to speak because in my country, Spain, I haven’t had any funding, and there’s a reality where the culture and the arts are left – are being left apart. And we are – I think it’s something that is – it’s a kind of diagnosed that is going on in the whole world somehow, or occident world, and but in – that in my country is very concretely going on. And the struggle for an artist, and I think it’s important to share it that the struggle for an artist is to commit to the career and be – and travel somewhere else, because our world cannot only speak in one country as Wan-Ching said. We need to share ideas with other humans that are not Spanish speakers in order to be able to speak. It’s such an important thing. And the opportunity to have a people that support that kind of exchange is completely necessary.
And luckily, hopefully in the future there’s more help funding given – not only for the people who travel, but also for the people that host – the companies that host us, because it’s such a big struggle. In the arts it’s an – in the arts, in theater, it’s such a struggle. The arts is not – it’s not in fashion in the way of we are not working in the marketing world, we are not very much related into the economics world that really mandate the pacing and activities that are going on in big, big, big, big, scenarios. So it’s a real struggle, and we need this space as we definitely need them.
QUESTION: Do you – I mean, or anybody else – do you guys after the program’s completed – do you think about staying here? Or do you have to make kind of some kind of choices in your minds whether to stay here or to go back? Or how do you guys see it?
MS. NAMUKOSE: I think I’ll just say my experience. When I came here I had – when you’re from my country – Uganda – to come here they say you’re going to, like, heaven. It’s like everything is here. (Laughter.) So when I came, I had this perspective. But then when I reached the ground I’m challenged to actually go back home and do more because I feel like there’s so much I can do for my country. Everyone keeps asking, so are you thinking – I’m like, “No, no, no. I can’t even think twice about that because I have to go home and change that.” So for me, I’ve never thought twice about that.
MS. LERNER: I feel very inspired just sitting here. (Laughter.) Anybody else?
MS. KEYAMO: For me – I just want to respond to something [Bukola] said and I could say something about – my country Nigeria –
QUESTIONER: Which is where I’m from.
MS. KEYAMO: Yeah. I know. I saw your name, I’m like, that’s my country. (Laughter.) Right. Now, in terms of entrepreneurship and – the corporate sector, they are more for themselves. I feel they are – they don’t – they are not really (inaudible), they are not into that right now, and they just think of themselves. And the government is – (inaudible) selfish on their part as well.
So I think coming to this part of the world I have had a different perspective like, “Okay. Even if you’re in a nonprofit sector, you can still (inaudible) while you still make profits.” That’s social enterprise. I learned that – I learned so much about that here. And I feel – even though I went into nonprofit sector in Nigeria, while I still want to have a way of sustaining my organization, and that is a way to do that. (Inaudible) at the same time you’re still sustaining your organization. And that’s something I want to do when I at least give – let – be aware of this.
This is not about myself. As a world, we have to help ourselves, and in a society where people are dying of a lot of things, I feel we should lend a supporting hand to the less privileged in society. And if you’re up there, you should be able to do that. And that’s what I want to do. I want to at least give – create an awareness of this. It’s something you can do. You don’t have to feed for yourself and don’t help the society and help the world.
And as for what you said, I have been here for one year right now. I came in the month of May last year. Like, I’ve never thought about staying back for once, because I feel like I’ll add value to my society back home. They need me more than anything else. I know I have a lot to give to Americans as well, but I feel my people need me more. So you know, I’ve learned so much – so much a lot. I have learned a lot since I came, and I have to give back to my society. And so I definitely have to go back.
MR. STEINFORTH: Well, for I guess – like, for us German, it’s maybe like a little bit less – (laughter) – a little bit less moving story, but – (laughter) – yeah. I could consider myself like living here for a certain amount of time. I mean, after like my internship I have to go back anyway. I have to finish my studies, but –
QUESTIONER: I mean, coming back after school maybe when you graduate or --
MR. STEINFORTH: Yes. Especially --
QUESTIONER: -- things like that come to your mind.
MR. STEINFORTH: Yeah.
QUESTIONER: I mean --
MR. STEINFORTH: Absolutely could see myself coming back, working here. And I also, like, I had contact with a lot of interns who already went back, and they are actually applying for New York – like different cities in the U.S. as well now.
MS. LERNER: So just to say, when you come on an exchange program – and of course, these people, they’re not on a funded exchange; they’re on a privately funded exchange, so they don’t necessarily have a residency requirement. Some categories they have to go back for two years.
But the purpose of an exchange is that people come here and then they go home – exactly like everyone has been saying – and of course targeting, which the internship program does, university students, does ensure that – I mean, it helps that they’re going to go back and finish school. And any student getting practical experience during studies – I mean, it just makes your last years at university just matter so much more. So we would love people to come back in another capacity. We love that. And that’s to the benefit of this country.
MODERATOR: We have time for one final question.
MS. LERNER: Okay. And if anybody wants to still answer, I thought that was very interesting. Or anybody else’s questions, feel free.
MS. KEYAMO: And just to add to what everybody has been saying about going home, there’s something that people have been saying in Africa – there’s this thing called “brain draining.” We feel that most people just leave Africa and they go to other part of the world like U.S. and Europe and (inaudible) just to get a better life. Well, I feel we are the ones that will make our place a better place. And if everybody just keep running away, I don’t know what will happen. Do you understand?
So that’s the drive that’s like, okay, I have to go back and add something to my society. I have something to give. If I run away and everybody keep running away we’ll have – and there won’t be Africa, you understand? So – and the problems will just keep growing, and so I feel even if I do come here, but I definitely feel I still have to go back home and give into what I have learned – a lot of things I have learned so far. I can’t just keep it to myself. I have to give back to my society.
QUESTIONER: I think that African women are very passionate. (Laughter.)
MS. LERNER: (Inaudible) special sense. I think that our greatest goal for this program is that all of the people that are on it go home with real American friends and contacts. And I think everything that you said about it’s contributing to your professional – what you want to do, what you want to achieve on a personal level and a professional level, but also you’re – you have support now here. You know people here. And we know that in the modern world it’s all about who you know and who your social network is, and your professional network. And that is how you get anywhere in life.
And so what I challenge everybody who comes in these programs to do is to make sure you have at least one, if not 50, but American friends that you are going to keep in touch with, that you feel a kinship with, that you will connect with on Facebook or wherever else – stay in touch with and invite to your house and come back to visit them. And your professional connections, that when you leave you know you’ve got someone who’s going to write you a recommendation that will vouch for what you’ve done. That – and that just gives you such a leg-up in the world.
And then to have – when we talked about international experience, we’ve seen now that with international experience your prospects for a job just increase dramatically. And we like to see Americans go overseas more, too. And so you’ll have that on – you’ll have that on your resume and then it’s yours to do with. So do not leave here without knowing you have somebody in your court here in the United States, and then what you do when you go home is – there’s so much you can do.
So thank you, everybody, for coming today. It was a lot of fun for me.
MODERATOR: Thank you Deputy Assistant Secretary Lerner. Thank you to all of the interns and trainees, and thank you to the journalists for coming.
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