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Future world leaders learn about rural America in Fall City

FALL CITY - The meals are larger in the United States than in Europe, said Marko Mandich, a leader for the democratic youth branch of the democratic party who lives in Serbia and Montenegro.

He also noted that the weather is not as cold as he imagined, and there seems to be fruit and wine available everywhere, something he is not used to coming from a country that has only recently been able to rebuild itself after years of war and political strife.

Those were some of the observations shared by the eight Europeans and one Canadian who filled the tables at the Fall City Grill this past Thursday on a mission to learn about how rural America addresses security issues. Dining on salad, soup, salmon and dessert, they chatted with a handful of selected government officials, public service people and representatives of Washington State.

As participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), hosted by the World Affairs Council, these (among other) select individuals were invited to the United States for a two-week national tour that focused on a specific program developed to educate participants about the United States and to provide a forum for communication about practices and policies. The World Affair Council brings international affairs to local areas, in this case Seattle, with the goal of increasing international awareness.

Participants were also invited to share information about their own countries, leading to formal and informal discussions about similarities and differences on everything ranging from daily life to governmental priorities.

Individuals were chosen by the U.S. embassies in their respective countries. The embassies identify current professionals who are also considered up-and-coming leaders in their various fields.

The nine international visitors who stopped in Seattle were part of a group of 18 selected for "Project for Young, European Leaders on Current Social, Political and Economic Issues."

This project focused on state and local government, health and social services and homeland security. The group started in Washington, D.C., then traveled to Pittsburgh. Half were then flown to Denver and the other half to Seattle. After the Seattle/Denver stop, the group reconnected in San Diego and will proceed to New York before leaving for home.

The group that visited Seattle included people working in positions ranging from senate chancellery and governmental advisors to political youth leaders. They came from countries including Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovak Republic, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Some had been to America before, but for others, this was the first visit.

This was Tone Sofie Aglen's inaugural trip to the states. A political advisor from Norway, she said that she was pleasantly surprised at how friendly, open-minded and communicative Americans were, defying her country's stereotypical views about Americans being merely heavy, stupid and/or war crazy.

She was impressed by the variety of political views and frustrated by what seemed to her to be a U.S. "pro-gun" stance and startled by the strict security measures taken when she first arrived in the country, as she said it is typically easier to travel internationally in Europe.

"In Norway [homeland security] is not an issue," she said.

Why bring the group to Fall City?

"We want to know how local government prepares for homeland security," said Lonnie Hillard, an English officer (meaning he is not an interpreter) with the U.S. Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. "We want to know how does a small town after 9/11 deal with the issues."

At the end of October, Bill Crone, a Fall City resident and an active member of the Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT), which is part of the Fall City Citizen Corps Council (a group dedicated to emergency response preparedness), was asked to volunteer by the World Affairs Council local representative program officer Jamie Quick.

Having worked together once before this summer with a smaller group of Japanese dignitaries, Quick asked Crone to assist in hosting the discussions.

Crone said he selected the Fall City Grill because it represented rural America.

"I think it [the meeting] went well ... I think this was a good exchange," he said. "I think that this is a very good way to build world relations because we're all on the same planet."

Participants also toured the King County Fire District No. 27 fire station and the rural water District/Snoqualmie Falls before returning to Seattle.

During their five-day stay in the Pacific Northwest, the group met with representatives from the Seattle Police Department, Washington State Patrol Vessel and Terminal Security, King County Office of Emergency Management and visited the Port of Seattle.

"There's a big difference between here and Europe; the way you look at life, day-to-day life," Marko said.

Michael Shovlin, a lawyer from Ireland who is also the vice chairperson of the youth section of Ireland's republican party Fianna Fail, was intrigued by how serious the issue of homeland security seemed to be. He observed that there were seemingly higher standards, repercussions and responsibilities allocated to the individual rather than a collective union or government.

"I don't think I realized how much the emphasis is placed on the individual rather than society," he said.

Canadian visitor Adrienne Batra (from Winnipeg), the provincial director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said that the experience was a good opportunity to meet people, considering the anti-American sentiment in much of Canada.

"We don't have homeland security, but it's not something we discount," she said. "We are international players; we have concern for our neighbors ... In every country, [I have found that] we have the same problems including not enough youth involvement, not enough voting and wanting politicians to tell the truth."

The IVLP has been around for more than 60 years. Traveling to more than 100 cities around the United States, about 300 to 400 people a month participate in this program at any given time, said Hillard.

Former participants include the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and current Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had just started in Parliament at the time.

"This has been a unique event," said Quick. "It's something that we hope to do again."

Crone and guest speakers will host an emergency preparedness meeting designed to inform participants what they need to know and do to prepare for an emergency. The meeting is at 7 p.m. on Nov. 28 at Chief Kanim Middle School, 32627 S.E. Redmond-Fall City Road in Fall City.

* For more information or to participate in the IVLP, visit www.world-affairs.org or call (206) 441-5910. For information about the Fall City Corps Council and CERT, visit www.citizencorps.gov.

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