Focus on Baltic Youth

Posted by Colleen Graffy
November 6, 2008
Young Leaders in Latvia

Photo GalleryAbout the Author: Colleen Graffy serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

Those of you who saw my post on “Public Diplomacy in Budapest” know that I see public diplomacy as the art of communicating a country's policies, values and culture to other peoples. It is an attempt to explain why we have decided on certain measures, and beyond that, to explain who we are.

My recent trip to Riga, Latvia gives a further glimpse of what public diplomacy is all about!

First things first -- what is our biggest public diplomacy challenge in Latvia? I wanted to hear the views of the Deputy Chief of Mission (the person who is second to the Ambassador) from the Latvian Embassy, Ms. Agnese Kalnina. Latvia has an active and engaged embassy that you can read more about here. After listening to her thoughts and ideas, the Public Diplomacy Desk Officer for that region, Andrea Strano, and Desk Officer Carol Bielman Werner worked with the Public Affairs Staff in Riga to put the final touches on the trip.


The morning started with a meeting at the U.S. Embassy with Ambassador Larson, who not only served as an Iowa Senator but also served in Iraq, flying combat as well as spearheading humanitarian missions.

A short walk from the embassy through the beautiful Bastejkalns Park guided by Public Affairs Officer William Bellis brought me to the Public Affairs building (in some countries the Public Affairs staff is not in the same embassy building to facilitate easier access for events and meetings). Riga has an excellent Public Affairs team including the Assistant Public Affairs Officer Ryan Roberts, Program Assistant (and photographer!) Andris Purvlicis and Cultural Affairs Assistant Ingrida Bodniece. We had a good discussion about the latest Public Diplomacy strategies from Washington, DC, including visual communications and digital outreach.

A key focus of our public diplomacy for the Baltics is on youth. A round-table meeting with young media professionals to discuss America’s image among young Latvians was therefore an excellent opportunity to learn what is on the minds of the next generation and to answer their questions. Our gathering included a Russian-speaking journalist, a TV news reporter, a radio reporter, a young newspaper writer who covers U.S. politics, an intern from the embassy as well as rock star Aigars Runcis. Runcis is well-known throughout Latvia for his rap-style music sung uniquely in a Latvian dialect! You can see one of the videos from “Borowa MC,” as he is known, or download his new CD “Plastilina Pasaule” for free. Musicians in Latvia find sponsors rather than charge for their music.

One of our biggest challenges is getting more young Americans to come to the Baltics and vice versa. The “Erasmus Programme,” set up by the European Union, has created academic mobility in higher education for students and teachers within the EU. This makes it cheaper and easier for students in Europe to have their study abroad experience elsewhere in Europe instead of the United States. To tackle this problem, we met with Study, Work and Travel Agencies’ representatives as well as the consul from the embassy to discuss what the impediments are for students interested in coming to the U.S. One issue is the view that it is hard to get a student visa when actually it isn’t. Myth-busting needed! The other is that there is often a lack of host families in the U.S. If you are interested in being a host family, and thereby making one of the most positive impacts on the view of America and Americans that there is, click here.

More from Latvia soon!

Editor's Note: Read Ms. Graffy's next entry from Latvia.



Kentucky, USA
November 7, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

This is a great article! An exciting look into public diplomacy. I enjoyed the pictures and even followed all the links. Learning about another culture, on both sides of the exchange, is a great way to find commonalities and discover shared values. With eagerness I am awaiting the next installment.

evden e.
November 7, 2008

Evden in Turkey writes:

thank you very much very good

Florida, USA
November 7, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

@ Kirk in Kentucky -- We have an International Visitors program here in central Florida. Individuals from around the world come to study water management, visit NASA, grassroots democracy, and generally observe Florida's solutions to a growing multicultural population. Perhaps the State Department can give you more specifics on this subject. Best regards.

Kentucky, USA
November 7, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

@ Susan in Florida -- Susan, thank you very much for that suggestion! It has lead me to a great site, the National Council for International Visitors.

Thanks again.

November 10, 2008

Basem in Syria writes:

hello....could you send me additional information about you?

New Mexico, USA
November 11, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Ms. Graffy -- I've heard in the past an opinion sometimes expressesed that Americans are somewhat ignorant about the world because a lot of us just don't travel outside the US, for whatever reasons.

I can say with certanty that this perception does not take into account the fact that the whole world comes to America and educates us while they get an education in our universities.

Just as a rough estimate over the last 10 years, I've met and gotten to know folks from at least 100 different nations, and that's just from hanging out at the local coffee shop before work in the morning.

I don't live in the most cosmopolitan of cities and though it has its tourist industry it's pretty far off the beaten path.

Thought you'd appreciate a little feedback on the flip side of exchange programs. I've definately seen it working in real-time.

If I was to offer these kids some advice, it's simple.

Like the NIKE commercial ...."just do it."

And when you get here, rent a car and drive if you have the's the best way to see the country. 3-4 days, coast to coast.

Ultimately there will be a piece of America that will remind you of home, regardless of where you come from.

The topography is that diverse.

Washington, USA
November 13, 2008

Alex in Washington writes:

How can I join "Digital Outreach team"? Anyone knows? Thank you!

November 14, 2008

Sophie in China writes:

Wow, that video was interesting. I wish I could have understood the words!

November 20, 2008

Edite in Canada writes:

While perusing the U.S. Department of State site, I chanced upon a blog written by Deputy Assistant for Public Affairs, Coleen Graffy, Europe and Eurasia, and was pleasantly surprised to learn of her trip to Latvia, in particular. I was not fully cognizent of the extent to which America has involved itself in the life of the people, not just politically, but culturally as well. It is thrilling to know that these efforts and exchanges are being made. May God continue to bless the U.S.A.!


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