“The state of relations between our people, as witnessed by this room, is extraordinary and getting better with every meal, with every program, with every joint effort,” observed Eurasia Foundation President Horton Beebe-Center while speaking to a room of over a hundred Russians and Americans this past February.
While on the international stage the U.S. and Russia have continued to search for common ground, the ballroom at the Hamilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. buzzed with enthusiasm and the spirit of collaboration as EF’s U.S.-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE) welcomed its 2015 fellows at its annual SEE Fellowship Launch.
“My first impression of the SEE Fellowship meeting is that it is a gathering of many interesting people, who are enthusiastic about their work and open to dialogue with each other,” observed a new Russian fellow joining the Gender Equity working group.
This second cohort of SEE fellows is as diverse and accomplished as the two countries they represent. Among these 37 Russians and 33 Americans are award-winning filmmakers, educators, community organizers, social workers, managers of wildlife preserves, lawyers, academics, and journalists.
The Fellowship Launch was the first opportunity for many of these experts to meet each other, as well as their specific working groups, which form the foundation for the fellowships upon which they were embarking. Over the next few months, the fellows will lend their skills and knowledge to implement various joint U.S.-Russia initiatives in fields ranging from community development to public health to the protection of flora and fauna.
Despite their diverse backgrounds and professions, the Launch participants projected a remarkable readiness and desire to engage with and learn from one another, both within their professional thematic fields and across the lines of their respective working groups.
The 2015 fellows’ projects include conducting on-the-ground research, designing mobile apps, producing documentary films, and developing training manuals, all of which are bound to play an important role in the effort to preserve and grow people-to-people engagement between Russia and the U.S.
“The way in which we were able to gel so well with the Russian fellows at the conference – each trying to give advice to and help the other in adapting to our own culture. It was a very nice reminder of the way things can be if we just try,” observed one of the incoming American fellows.
The same sentiment about the prospect of collaboration was reiterated during the official dinner, when the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle, the director of the Initiative for Russian Culture Anton Fedyashin and several members of the EF’s Board of Trustees came to welcome the fellows.
In his keynote address, Ambassador Beyrle praised SEE participants for upholding “the habits of cooperation and understanding” that have been forged between Russia and the U.S. over the last few decades. “What you’re doing – it’s not just all right, it’s not just permissible or permitted – it’s actually very important,” he underscored.
Charged with these words of encouragement, SEE fellows dispersed to their host destinations to work on their varied assignments with a clearer understanding of the role they are about to play in strengthening ties between their countries.