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Building Bridges with Cuba

Posted on Thursday, September 17th, 2015 at 7:46 pm.


Sitting on a panel during the “Building Bridges: Strengthening Educational & Citizen Exchange Linkages” symposium

Last week we held a symposium at George Washington University, here in Washington, D.C. on “Building Bridges: Strengthening Educational & Citizen Exchange Linkages,” following the opening of official diplomatic relations with Cuba. The idea was to bring together those who work with exchange programs to discuss our new U.S. approach on engaging people-to-people with Cuba – of which J-1 plays an integral role.

Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan wrote about the symposium, and I’d like to share some of her thoughts. As I said at the symposium, these are the relationships that will drive the U.S. and Cuba forward – and I am excited for the J-1 EVP possibilities as we build on the current 49 participants.

As I told the audience of universities, study abroad providers, cultural institutions, NGOs, and organizations that sponsor international visitors through the J-1 visa program, the phrase “historic moment” is truly justified when it comes to the recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.  And this new approach has unlocked immense energy around expanding programs connecting the citizens of our two countries — something I find incredibly encouraging because exchanges have a unique and critical role to play.  Exchanges allow Americans and Cubans to learn more about each other, rebuild trust, and develop a new relationship.  They also help Cubans connect to the world to obtain the knowledge, skills, and networks to improve their own lives.  My colleague and Deputy Assistant Secretary Gonzalo Gallegos noted in his closing remarks that it is no longer an era of focusing on what differences we have with one another, rather it is a time to celebrate and build on all that we have in common. I absolutely agree, and assert that exchanges are excellent vehicles to do just that.

The organizations that sponsor J-1 visas are one part of a vibrant community of academic and cultural organizations working to build networks of people who want to live constructively and cooperatively together.

It is my hope that the Building Bridges symposium was just the beginning of a dialogue between this community and the U.S. government on how to create bridges of mutual understanding between the people of the United States and Cuba.

Categories: J-1 Visa, Participants

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

G. Kevin Saba

G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

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