Route J-1


Going West 5 Years Strong

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015 at 3:04 pm.

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DAS Lerner and WEST alumni at the 5th anniversary gala event

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.

DAS Lerner and Korean Ministry of Education Director Jae-Sung Park

DAS Lerner and Korean Ministry of Education Director Jae-Sung Park

DAS Lerner and U.S. Embassy colleagues meet with Korean Ministry of Education Director General Seong-Geung Bae

DAS Lerner and U.S. Embassy colleagues meet with Korean Ministry of Education Director General Seong-Geung Bae

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.

Eunjoo Lee, a participant of the “Special WEST” program, shares her experience at the 5th anniversary gala event.

Eunjoo Lee, a participant of the “Special WEST” program, shares her experience at the 5th anniversary gala event.

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.

DAS Lerner and WEST alumni chat during the margins of the 5th anniversary gala event

DAS Lerner and WEST alumni chat during the margins of the 5th anniversary gala event

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.

Categories: J-1 Visa, Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange


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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