Last week, I had the pleasure of interacting with over 800 enthusiastic and engaged young people as guest speaker for an educational series on South Asia in Delaware. Connecting with students and other young people is truly one of the best parts of my job, for it gives me the chance to encourage young people's hope and optimism and their eagerness to make a difference in the world.
Sponsored by the Delaware-Delhi-Lahore Partnership for Peace, students from seven participating high schools in Wilmington gathered at Cab Calloway High School to learn more about India and Pakistan. Although not normally part of their required curriculum, these students were eager to hear about the evolving nature of India-Pakistan ties and the encouraging developments in relations between these neighbors.
Our discussion focused on a key element in the India-Pakistan relationship: the growth of trade and people-to-people linkages. While governments can do much to define a relationship, governments and people together can do so much more. It is the citizens of these nations who will propel the relationship forward, as relationships between nations are rooted in the relationships between their people.
The State Department supports many innovative initiatives to link Pakistanis and Indians. In 2011, we brought Pakistani students and Indian students to Huntsville, Alabama to attend the Advanced Space Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. During the 10-day camp, the students learned about the demands of space voyages as well as the importance of cooperation. This year, we conducted the first-ever India and Pakistan soccer exchange program, aimed at encouraging Indians and Pakistanis to share their experiences and learn about the United States through the lens of sports.
During these interactions, people find that they have more in common than imagined -- they miss the same foods while away from home, share the same national obsession for cricket, and perhaps even a common language. Most importantly, they share the same vision for a future based on prosperity and security. They realize that their commonalities extend beyond the cricket pitch, and they form bonds that dispel previously conceived notions of the other. These seemingly small steps, one person at a time, help the two countries move toward better relations.
Our discussion of people-to-people diplomacy prompted questions from the students about the role they can play in fostering mutual understanding globally. Many asked about the Foreign Service and the career of a diplomat. But many wanted to know what they could do right now to build bridges of understanding among the United States, India, and Pakistan. The State Department encourages opportunities for Americans to become citizen diplomats through programs like exchanges and study abroad. The event in Delaware was a great opportunity to encourage our young people to get involved, and their energy and optimism gives me great hope for the future.
Editor's Note: November 12-16 is International Education Week. You can learn more about International Education Week and how you can become involved in citizen diplomacy by visiting exchanges.state.gov.