My first official trip as Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs was to Mexico City, where I had a gratifying firsthand look at programs of the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), which I have the honor to lead. ECA exchanges discussed during weeks of briefings preceding my official swearing in were suddenly vivid and alive.
First came an in-depth policy briefing by Ambassador Carlos Pascual and his staff. I learned that Mexico has a booming youth population, with 42 percent of the nation under 20. Creative engagement of youth is the focus, including a State Department-sponsored Short Message Service (SMS) program to enable anonymous crime reporting. Interestingly, while only 20-25 percent of the population has Internet access, mobile penetration in Mexico is 80 percent.
The next 36 hours were a whirlwind of new friends and old, who shared their visions for the future of Mexico. I met with a variety of leaders from the educational, performing arts, museum and cultural communities for conversations full of energy and innovative ideas. I also visited the Benjamin Franklin Library, which is the only remaining full-service, public access library in the hemisphere fully funded by the State Department.
Among the most memorable moments in Mexico were those spent with exchange program participants whose lives have changed significantly as a result of their educational or cultural exchange experiences. Gabriela Medina, a teacher who participated in the ECA-supported Carnegie Hall Cultural Exchange program, spoke passionately of the program's profound impact on her students. This school-based program of musical and educational partnerships between students and teachers in the United States and their international counterparts allows participants to share performances and ideas through simulcast technology.
I was also pleased to meet with a group of current Fulbrighters and Fulbright alumni, whose expertise ranged from the fine arts and business to political science and teaching. In addition, alumni from the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) programs shared news of their exciting projects underway. The IVLP alum has created a drug addiction prevention program with local youth. The SUSI alum is spearheading a second English Access Microscholarship Program summer camp for 150 students. I was impressed by their shared commitment to expanding the alumni network, with 7,000 alumni in Mexico alone. This effort to re-engage members of the ECA program “family” is vital.
Another highlight was a reception to announce the Jóvenes en Acción program, where I met fifty outstanding Mexican public high school students who have been selected for their academic merit and leadership potential to travel to Berkeley, California and Washington, D.C. for five weeks. This joint initiative, funded by the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education and the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs' Innovation Fund in partnership with 16 private organizations, is a stellar example of how public-private partnerships can yield tremendous opportunities and growth for international exchanges. The participants' energy and appreciation for this opportunity was palpable, their lives already changing since being accepted into the program. Those 50 faces so full of hope, ideas, energy and promise have remained with me.