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Ms. Yousef picked up her new language and thinking skills as part of Access, an after school English language program that is a small, almost invisible corner of the United States Department of State’s multibillion-dollar budget. It is a low profile, delayed-impact program that aims to promote change and understanding from the bottom up. Since its inception in 2004, it has taught 32,000 students in 50 countries. Access arrived in Egypt about two years ago and 182 teenagers from all over the country, Christians and Muslims, young men and young women, have graduated from the program. The only requirement is that they come from poor families.First off, I am a huge fan of these kinds of programs. They strike me as more effective COIN than most of the capture/kill missions I have been on in Iraq and Afghanistan. As far as information operations go, I would argue they are invaluable to any kind of long-term strategy. But toward the end of the article, the students themselves ask a good question of a U.S. ambassador:
“Their first question to the ambassador was, ‘What’s next for us?’ ” said Robert Lindsey, the State Department’s Egypt coordinator for Access.That sounds pretty reasonable to me, Bishoy. So allow me to give some free advice to the U.S. government based upon personal experience. As some of you know, I was a classics major in college. When I left the U.S. Army in 2004, that contributed to me being interesting to speak with at a cocktail party but pretty much tits on a bull when it came to international travel. I didn't speak a single living language other than English. I then lived in Lebanon and Egypt while studying Arabic for the next two years. But that wasn't the only language I learned -- I also learned French. I studied French for almost three years in the French cultural centers in Beirut and Cairo -- which offer good, cheap language instruction (subsidized by the French tax-payer) -- in addition to the Alliance Française here in Washington, DC. I also took advantage one summer of a great program -- originally set up for U.S. veterans of the First World War -- at the Sorbonne. The French -- like the British, with the British Council -- take the teaching of their language seriously. And if you go to a French cultural center, the odds are high that you can take classes in French from the novice to advanced levels. But what are you to do then? Well, the French push the application to French universities hard to students who achieve a high degree of proficiency in the language. It strikes me that we Americans should do the same for the Egyptians and Sudanese and Bulgarians and Vietnamese who learn English well enough to rock the TOEFL. Why not? Our university system is considered to be one of the best (if not the best) in the world, and international students who study in the U.S. tend to think highly of our country. (There are, ahem, notable exceptions.) So we should partner this language program with a program that rewards the very best students with a chance to study in the U.S. -- even if it's only for a year-long exchange.
The students seemed disappointed by the answer. They were told there were no more steps to Access, that it could help them get into other programs, but that would be up to them.
“We don’t want it to be two years that just passed and then it’s over,” said Sandy Morris, 15, of Minya.“We took the first step, so we want to take the next step,” said Bishoy Wanees, 15, also of Minya.