January 8th, 2007 11:57 EST
England Tells Students to Build Relationships One at a Time
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2007 – Friendships between nations are abstract ideas that only become real when they are built on relationships and friendships among people, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told Muslim high school students visiting the Pentagon today.
The students are part of the U.S. State Department’s Youth Exchange and Study Program. International students participating in the exchange program live with U.S. families for 10 months. They go to school in local communities and meet Americans of all ages and walks of life in their time in the country.
Students, businesspeople and tourists visiting each others’ countries and learning new cultures grow into friendship between nations, England told the 17 students who toured the Pentagon. “You build relationships one at a time,” he said.
“It really is up to what individual people do,” England added.
The program is not only about what students learn in America by meeting Americans, it’s also about what they say when they go back to their nations about their experiences in the United States.
“I have learned that Americans are not really all that different from me,” Lynne Ammar, an exchange student from Tunisia, said. “We all want the same things for our families and nations. We should be together in one world.”
Another student said she has learned to take what she learns in the media with a grain of salt. “You can’t always trust what you see in the media, both the media in my country and the U.S. media,” Imane Belhaj, from Morocco, said. “You get only a small part of the story.”
She said she has found Americans friendly, courteous and not like they are portrayed in movies, and that is an impression she will bring home with her.
The impression the students leave in America is also important, Abd Ulah al Awadhi, from Kuwait, said. “While I am here I have to remember that I am like an ambassador to Kuwait,” he said. “I want people to understand what my country is like and what my people are like. I hope to leave them with a good impression of my people.”
“We are like a bridge between the cultures,” Soumaya Berrazzouk, from Morocco, said. “People here are very open and friendly. They have opened their houses and their hearts to us. Now we need to go back and talk of our experiences here.”
Nationwide, around 600 students are participating in the program. It started in 2002 as an effort for high school students from predominantly Muslim countries to experience life in a democratic society. The students participating in the program are from: Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Gaza and the West Bank. Arab Israelis also participate.
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service