Cross-cultural Communication through the Meet Us Program

Before starting my internship at the U.S. Mission to Belgium, I had never heard of the Meet US Program, nor did I have any idea of what it was. Now, nearing the end of my internship, I realize that the Meet US Program is a great aspect of our youth engagement at the U.S. Embassy, as it provides a unique opportunity for Belgian youths to get a better sense of American lifestyle and culture.

The concept of the Meet US Program is to provide Belgian secondary students with a better idea of who Americans are. Oftentimes, due to the global proliferation of American media, stereotypes are developed from the ‘American image’ of popular TV shows, films, and music. For example, during the question and answer section, Belgian students frequently asked me if American high school life is true to the popular image portrayals displayed in shows like Gossip Girl, Glee, or High School Musical. As anyone who grew up in the United States will tell you, American high school life isn’t nearly as dramatic as these shows make it out to be; one of the key points of the Meet US Program is to break these stereotypes by exemplifying American diversity and describing American history, politics, and values.

The Public Affairs section of the US Embassy in Brussels coordinates this program by receiving requests from the schools, recruiting speakers to give the presentation, and providing all logistics. One interesting aspect about the program is that schools can request preferred discussion topics to suit the preferences of their students. Oftentimes the presentations are centered on American lifestyle and general culture, but they can be specialized to include more detailed information, such as educational opportunities for Belgians in the United States. In addition, this program is offered at absolutely no cost to the participating school.

The point of the Meet US Program is to provide an open and direct dialogue between the guest speaker and the students. The guest speaker can be any American working here in Brussels, ranging from interns like myself, EducationUSA Staff, Foreign Service Officers on post in Brussels, and even Ambassador Howard Gutman himself, who recently welcomed approximately 60 Belgian students into his home to host an afternoon Meet US Program.

In addition to Ambassador Gutman’s part in this Meet US Program, 3 other American officials participated in the forum, including a Public Affairs and Consular Officer from the U.S. Embassy as well as the Director for Fulbright Belgium, who provided detailed information on the Public Diplomacy outreach in Belgium, opportunities to attend university in the U.S., and the immigration/visa process.

The Meet US Program has been one of the most fun aspects of my internship at the Public Affairs section. Presenting information about American culture to a Belgian audience is simply enjoyable, and it’s fulfilling to directly interact with the Belgian students. Another unexpected part about participating in this program is that as the speaker, you learn more about how the United States and Americans are viewed in Belgium vis-à-vis the questions asked by the students. Oftentimes, from growing up in the United States you tend to overlook certain aspects of the culture because they are so institutionalized and normal from the perspective of an American. However, when asked directly, the questions make you think and reflect about your own culture. Overall, this program is a great opportunity for all parties involved, both Americans and Belgians.

For more information about the Meet US Program, as well as a form to submit a request for a speaker, please consult the following link: http://www.myamerica.be/meet-us-program/

- James Peranteau

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