As we showed in my last post, J-1 exchanges play an important role in building good will and strengthening important bilateral relationships. The United States and the Republic of Korea, two strong allies, have had an international exchange partnership since 2008 through Korea WEST (Work, English, Study, and Travel). Through a system of recruitment in Korea and implementation in the United States, the WEST program offers Korean university students English language training and professional internships through J-1 designated sponsors. In the spirit of reciprocity, American students participate in internships in Korea through the Korean Working Holiday Program.
During my trip to Korea last month, I realized that working together across governments toward a common goal – through successful exchanges for Americans and Koreans – has enabled a strong bond between the two governments as we cooperate on WEST.
While the exchange experience itself is exciting, educational, and enriching, our ultimate goal is to build long-term relationships with our participants through alumni networking. While in Korea, I attended a gala event commemorating the 5th anniversary of WEST organized by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and the Korean Ministry of Education. That event served to kick off the brand new WEST Alumni Network. The audience included over 300 Korean WEST alumni who gathered together to celebrate the positive impact WEST has had on their lives. One of the keynote speakers, Eun Joo, described her tough childhood and credited her U.S. exchange experience with changing everything in her life, including paving the way to her new job with Hyundai Heavy Industries.
The Korean Government is committed to diversity in the program and provides scholarships for some participants to make sure that this kind of professional development opportunity is available to all.
Throughout the evening, I met and spoke with fascinating WEST alumni who each shared how the program empowered them with invaluable language skills, cross-cultural competence, and professional experience that would help them progress in achieving their academic and career aspirations.
I am confident that the WEST program will continue to foster the next generation of Korean leaders who will help bring about even greater bilateral cooperation, global peace, and stability in the future.
|About Nicole Elkon|
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange
Nicole Elkon joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange in September 2021. Until June 2021, Ms. Elkon was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Human Rights First, an independent advocacy organization focused on human rights and the rule of law. Prior to her position as COO, Ms. Elkon was a Senior Advisor at Results for America (RFA), a non-profit organization focused on advancing data-driven, evidence based public policy at all levels of government. She also served as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of ECA and was Director of the Office of Public Private Partnerships at ECA working to leverage strategic partnerships to enhance Administration foreign policy priorities.Read More
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