United States Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan discussed her role at the agency at an event on Monday in the Social Sciences Building.
Jay Wang, director of the USC Center of Public Diplomacy, began the event by introducing Ryan. Ryan assumed her position as assistant secretary of state on Sept. 26. Previously, she served in the White House as assistant to the vice president and special assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement.
The visit to USC was Ryan’s first stop outside of the state department. Ryan began the conversation by introducing what the ECA does and what it is responsible for.
“The ECA oversees international exchange programs — cultural, professional and academic. We have about 140 exchange programs of different kinds,” Evans said. “Through these programs, we have about 300,000 foreigners coming into the United States every year.”
The ECA’s mission statement is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through educational and cultural exchanges that support the development of peaceful relations.
“We are sharing American values around the world, to develop individual skills for people to return to their home country with enhanced skill bases, in order to lift up their communities and countries,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the ECA also tries to reach out to new and diverse communities.
“A huge goal for us is trying to reach people who may have never previously met someone from the U.S.,” she said. “Those are the audiences we are trying to expand to — the nontraditional people for these exchange programs.”
Ryan also spoke about different exchange programs through the ECA. For example, there is a Fulbright-mtvU program for students who are more interested in music.
“A Fulbright-mtvU fellow developed a band of Palestinians and Israelis. They travel around and perform,” Ryan said. “It’s a really rare partnership between Israelis and Palestinians and it’s based on music. It is really a heartening thing to see.”
The second half of the conversation with Ryan consisted of a Q&A session.
Students who were at the meeting with Ryan had differing opinions about it. Many were excited to learn more about the United States’ diplomatic efforts.
“I came into the conversation without knowing much about what she does and the program. It was really interesting to hear all these international efforts to create better relationships,” said Cindy Barrios, a senior majoring in East Asian area studies.
Some students said they were interested to learn exactly what diplomacy means.
“Public diplomacy is one of those things that everyone has heard of but it’s also something no one can define exactly,” said Luke Phillips, a sophomore majoring in international relations. “It’s refreshing going to an event where all they do is talk about it. It’s amazing to know that by working for the state department for this group, you can plan events while serving your country and serving the interests of peace and freedom for the rest of the world.”
Other students, however, thought Ryan should have focused her speech on more practical matters.
“It’s definitely interesting to listen; it’s rare that you get to hear directly firsthand, sitting in a room,” said Nona Yegazarian, a senior majoring in business administration. “At the same time, it’s not new. We already understand what diplomacy is. I wanted to hear about the actual problems and how they’re working to overcome them.”
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