U.S. and Latvia: Creating Mutual Understanding

Posted by Colleen Graffy
November 10, 2008
Latvia High School Students

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. Read Ms. Graffy's previous entry.Tuesday -- The first item on the agenda for Tuesday was a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to compare notes on strategic communications. Most countries are now very keen on developing public diplomacy so we all have a lot to share with one another.

The meeting was followed by a visit with the distinguished Director of the Latvian Institute, Ambassador Ojars Kalnins. Ambassador Kalnins was raised and educated in the United States but moved to Latvia once independence was restored. He later returned to the U.S. --as Ambassador! Learn more about Latvia through the Institute’s excellent website.

Our embassies are strong supporters of mentoring junior officers so I was delighted to have the opportunity to spend some time with three newly minted Foreign Service officers and an intern who is contemplating taking the Foreign Service Exam. Doing an internship with the State Department is a good way of exploring a career with the Foreign Service.

A round-table discussion with Latvian High School Exchange students allowed me to hear firsthand about the experiences they had in the U.S. (they loved it!) and to brainstorm how to encourage more of their age group to follow in their footsteps. It was very moving to hear them describe their American “mom” and “dad” and “sisters” and “brothers.” American host families really open their homes and hearts in a way that changes these young people forever!

Well, what better way to “myth-bust” about coming to the U.S. than to do a radio show with two young Latvians who had just returned from studying in the U.S. College radio station, "Radio NABA,"interviewed the three of us about the process as well as the differences in educational systems and culture. Their advice to others at the University of Latvia contemplating studying in the U.S.: “It’s not hard, just do it!”

A moment of reflection on the history of Latvia and its struggles was made possible by a visit to The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991. Fifty-one years of occupation!

And finally, a superb way to end my visit to Latvia -- dinner with some of the country’s eminent cultural leaders to discuss how we can increase our cultural ties. Guests included the talented Latvian singer, Linda Leen (one of her English-language videos can be found on YouTube) and Aivars Linis, the manager of the famous Dailes Theater. Both Aivars and Linda were participants in a U.S. State Department musical theater exchange which brought choreographer Steven Schwartz (composer and lyricist of Wicked!, Godspell and Enchanted, and many more) to Riga and then brought Aivars, Linda and six other artists to New York in a partnership with ASCAP, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Play the video below to see an interview with Mr. Schwartz and ASCAP leaders about their Latvian experience, or you can read the transcript of their interview.

Also present was the former spokeswoman for the President of Latvia, Aiva Rozengerga, who is now working on the public relations for the astounding Song Festival that takes place every four years in Latvia -- 35,000 people assemble to sing! For more information about the trip and the work of the embassy, visit here.

A lot packed in to two days! Next stops: Lithuania and Estonia.



Florida, USA
November 13, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

@ Colleen Graffy -- Nothing creates understanding, as well as empathy, as visiting and/or living in another country. During my years of travel I was always interested to find that "stereotypical" thinking disappeared as one would talk to and get to know the people and their country. I found that what they thought of us, Americans, changed, too. Public diplomacy is so very important to changing attitudes. Thank you for this posting.

November 18, 2008

Cemal in Turkey writes:


November 18, 2008

John in Greece writes:

Welcome Cemal...


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