Ask any international visitor what he or she finds valuable in an exchange program, and you’re likely to get varied answers. Whether it’s the swapping of knowledge and ideas, increased awareness of cultural diversity or the discovery of interesting social opportunities, participating in an exchange program fosters greater understanding among people, societies and countries.
No one understands this more than the seven delegates from Moscow, Siberia and other areas of Russia who recently traveled more than 6,000 miles, bringing their ideas and innovative thoughts to engage and exchange in meaningful interaction with Frisco’s key leaders and community. Staying a little more than a week in Sept. 2013, the group’s trip was made possible through the Frisco Rotary Club, a service organization, and the Open World Program, an international business exchange program.
“This was the third visit from an Open World delegation, and it was extremely successful,” explained Audie Adkins of the Frisco Rotary Club. “Through our partnership with the City of Frisco, we were able to showcase local government to the group, explain the inter-workings of fundamental departments and visit many locations around the city of Frisco, interacting with key city officials. While we shared with them, they shared with us, so it was a wonderful learning opportunity for everyone.”
Originally created as a pilot program in 1999, the Open World Program, a post-Soviet era exchange program, was established as a permanent agency in late 2000. Including more than 17,000 current and future leaders from the countries of Eurasia, the Open World program allows delegates to connect, communicate and collaborate with Members of Congress, Congressional staff and thousands of local government representatives and communities.
Henry Hill, City of Frisco deputy city manager, noted, “The Open World Program is really an exchange of ideas. We learn from visitors what works in their countries, and they are given the opportunity to understand our free market system, basic principles and structure of our government from an inside perspective. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Kicking off their visit to the Dallas area by meeting host families and enjoying a nice dinner together, the delegation expressed their interest in learning about the best practices of local government planning and understanding various entrepreneurial initiatives. The delegation met with Frisco and Little Elm city officials, toured their offices and received presentation overviews on numerous topics, including city government structures, executive functions of the cities, the Chamber of Commerce and other business-supporting entities.
“The City of Frisco was thrilled to welcome the Open World delegation, allowing us the opportunity to serve, assist and teach them how local government provides services to our citizens. The group visited with Frisco Mayor Maher Maso and interacted with our City Manager George Purefoy. Over the course of the week-long visit, they learned a great deal about city planning, public safety, public works, parks and recreation, economic development and the various management and support services to the city’s operations,” noted Mr. Hill.
The delegation was also very interested in how America’s public school system works, so Mr. Hill arranged a tour and meeting with Frisco Independent School District (FISD) representatives. Ms. Adkins adds, “It was a fascinating topic for the attendees because traditionally, in Moscow, the schools have been run by the state, and the cities have had very little input and influence on the curriculum. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Eurasia countries have slowly been evolving the schools, so the attendees were very interested in understanding how FISD runs our schools so amazingly well and partners so closely with the City of Frisco.”
In addition to the city offices and FISD school system tours, the delegation toured Frisco’s Police and Fire Departments, as well as participated in an overview of the City of Frisco’s communication department and how messaging is completed within the city, to the residents and to the public as a whole.
“The opportunity to share the factors of our city with the delegation demonstrated the importance of local government in our American system of democracy,” noted Mr. Hill. “As Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘Town government is the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government and for its preservation,’ showing the role of central government as envisioned by our founders of this great country. To me, the elements of our democratic republic are best shown in the workings on the local level where citizens have a direct and effective say in who runs their community and what their community will achieve. I was glad to share this and help arrange the information for the delegation to take back to their own countries.”
In addition to each day’s scheduled work activities, there was time for some fun. The visitors toured Toyota Stadium as well as visited the Sci-Tech Discovery Center, witnessing hands-on learning tours of discovery in the fields of math, science and technology. They also lunched at lively places such as Dave and Busters and Babe’s Chicken, visited the Frisco Heritage Museum and enjoyed an authentic Wild West experience at a Texas ranch, riding horses, fishing, relaxing and eating Texas BBQ. Ms. Adkins continued, “This group was all about learning how to build commerce during their work hours, but in their off time, they were a blast to be around. We all had a great time learning about each other, and I can honestly say their perspective of the American people was quite different from their original impression they had observed from American television programming. We truly connected with each other and the entire process was one of understanding and learning.”
The exchange of ideas continued with the host families. Having served as a host family for the Open Word program twice before in years past, Gary and Wanda Carley again opened their home to four gentlemen in September. “I really enjoyed learning about these men and the culture of their country. Every time we have welcomed individuals to our home, we have learned more and more about their country and how it has changed. Having grown up in a generation fearful of the previous USSR, my eyes have been opened, learning about their customs and their way of life. It was a tremendously rewarding experience and a very rare opportunity, and we would definitely serve again. I still receive emails from past visitors and invitations to visit their country,” says Mr. Carley.
Ms. Adkins agrees. “I have great hope in the Russian community based on our experience with this delegation from the Open World program as a whole. They were so open and willing to listen to the perspectives presented while they were here. Their eagerness to learn is so palpable and authentic, and it’s clear these individuals are so looking forward to taking back the information provided on this trip and build their own business communities. We learned from them as well. Overall, this exchange of ideas confirmed my faith in these people and the world as a whole.”