For two days at the US Dept of State, young professionals hosted by NCSL from Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine joined legislative fellows from 14 other countries to share their experiences in state and local government. All of them had spent the past month in the US, and during those all-important four weeks leading up to the mid-term elections they observed campaigns, worked in state legislatures and NGOs, and explored the political process.
The LFP Congress, hosted by the program’s funder, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, gave the fellows the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas, as well as to hear from leading experts in their fields. State Senator Pamela Althoff (R-Illinois) gave the keynote address, describing her own experience hosting a Ukrainian fellow in spring 2010, and encouraging all the fellows to go after their dreams.
Tea Machaidze, from the country of Georgia, worked in the Nebraska state legislature. In Nebraska, when they had committee hearings and were preparing legislation, “they would invite everybody” Tea described. She hopes to make the political process in her home as open and participative as what she witnessed in the U.S.
Though Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine’s governments still have many unresolved tensions, this didn’t stop the fellows from making friends amongst themselves. When not working, fellows visited homeless shelters, public schools, lobbyists, youth detention centers, prisons, and NGOs. Nearly all the fellows expressed surprise at the level of volunteerism they witnessed. Maksim Krivelevich from Russia told NCSL, “If retired people can work from early morning to late at night to implement their ideas, why can’t I?”
Fellows also tried to give back to their adopted American communities as much knowledge as they gained. Elena Garib, a journalist placed with the public affairs office in the California General Assembly in Sacramento, gave a lecture to journalism students. They practiced interviewing and photographing her, and she jokingly called them “my paparazzi.” Garib was excited by how much information about the General Assembly was available to the public. In her home in Russia, she doesn’t even know how her representatives voted while in office.
Tetyana Holuboka from Ukraine, who spent the month with the Florida state legislature, was also shocked to see that citizens had online access to financial information about the legislature. She marveled that they could attend city council hearings without permission. When asked to describe what her LFP experience gave to her, Holuboka said, her eyes shining with excitement, “People achieve their dreams when they invest in them. I feel that this month was a great investment in our lives.”
Media Coverage of the LFP Program:
- LFP on DipNote blog
- LFP on America.gov
- Maxim Bezaev in California
- Elena Garib in California