Sanat Ryskulova works as a Research Associate with the National Institute for Strategic Studies of the Kyrgyz Republic, a government think tank. In December of 2019, she traveled to the U.S. through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to study policy formation. The IVLP is an initiative funded by the Department of State Office of International Visitors (OIV) to foster mutual understandings between the U.S. and other countries through professional and cultural international exchanges.
My discovery of the United States began in 1998, when my mother participated in the International Visitor Program, as it was known at the time. The project was entitled “Women’s Issues: Focus on Health,” and had been operated by the United States Information Agency (USIA). Her group consisted of four women, each of whom worked in healthcare and was well aware of the gender inequality that existed in the field. They visited Washington, D.C., Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Upon returning home, my mother recounted with admiration the conversations she shared with her American counterparts and the measures they took to protect women’s health across the country. She was delighted by the American people, their culture and education system. I decided then and there I had to learn more about this program. As it is said, better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.
I never thought that after 20 years, I would have the opportunity to visit the U.S. on the same program. My IVLP project was designed to educate participants on policy processes by examining the relationships between U.S. think tank institutions and the federal government to inform and strengthen policymaking. Our group included representatives from the Kyrgyz Republic President’s Office, the National Parliament Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National Institute for Strategic Studies of the Kyrgyz Republic, NGO. We had wonderful and informative discussions in Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York City, and met many kind and tolerant people along the way.
While everyone very much enjoyed the professional encounters with our American counterparts, it is worth noting the impact of the intercultural experiences as well. The cultural activities and home hospitality arrangements organized by the IVLP leaders were just as memorable and played an equal part in making our trip truly unforgettable.
Moreover, I found it very exciting that through this program, my mother and I, while living over 6,000 miles away, each visited the small town of Freeport, Illinois. As I showed my mom photos from my visit to Freeport, she easily recognized the streets and places she had also visited two decades earlier.
Another thing that surprised me was the fact that although our countries – the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States of America - are on different continents, we both enjoy the privilege of an open society. The Kyrgyz Republic is the only freely elected parliamentary democracy in Central Asia. The 2017 presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan marked the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in the region.
Exchange programs like the IVLP create opportunities for professionals to learn from and work with others to develop shared solutions in various fields, such as policy formation. I am confident that as years go by, we will remember with joy and fondness our time spent in the United States. Last, but not least, we have also formed friendships within our IVLP group, as well as in the U.S., and we are happy to stay in touch with one another. Upon our return home, our group agreed to establish a tradition to remember our time spent in the U.S. by arranging regular get-togethers in Bishkek.