At a time when President Trump is attempting to limit access to the United States to foreign visitors, Austin-based Alliance Abroad Group (AAG) is extending a warm welcome to top-performing students from South Korea. As a U.S State Department designated sponsor for several visa programs that bring students and young professionals into the United States to work, study and learn about American culture, AAG is an enthusiastic supporter of the Korea WEST and other international exchange programs.
The exchange visitor program began as part of the Fulbright-Hays Act, established to expose Americans to citizens of other countries and to bring foreign students into the United States for the purpose of education and greater understanding.
“It’s an interesting time in our business with the immigration controversy,” says Victoria Lynden, the founder and CEO of Alliance Abroad. “The purpose of this program is to start diplomacy efforts early with the future leaders of other countries. Along with many government advocates, it is our experience that cultural exchange programs serve to strengthen relationships between the United States and other nations and is an important component of a national security strategy.”
According to a statement issued by the State Department, “Exchange programs play an important role in building good will and strengthening important bilateral relationships.”
The United States and Korea, established a reciprocal exchange program in 2008. Through Korea WEST (Work, English, Study and Travel) academically gifted students are recruited and selected to participate in the language and professional internships through visa sponsors like AAG. In return, American students are given the reciprocal opportunity to intern in Korea.
Hanee Choi, is a sociology graduate from Seoul, South Korea. After graduating first in her university class, she learned about the Korea West program.
“I am interested in issues that affect the whole of international society – especially environmental issues, human rights issues, developing country issues, the history of culture, science, mass media and people’s emotions,” Hanee explains. “The U.S. is a pioneer in sociology and the international issues that I am interested in, so this program is a wonderful opportunity.”
Choi is one of 45 participants who arrived in Austin in January to begin English training that will be followed by a six to ten month internship. In August, Austin will welcome another 50 Korean WEST participants. “We are still looking for local businesses to host these incredibly motivated students,” says Lynden. “This is a program where everyone who participates wins,” she adds. “Companies benefit by adding top talent and diversity to their teams, as well as the knowledge that participating in this program will have an indelible effect on these students. We’re hoping to find great homes for all the participants and show them what our city is all about – innovative businesses, great people and plenty of opportunity to grow and learn.”