April 12, 1999
Release No. 017-99

CONTACT: Theresa Markiw    (202) 619-4130
Cindy McConnell (Close Up),    703-706-3690
800-CLOSE Up (256-7387), ext 690

United States InformationAgency- News Release



Washington, D.C.As the turbulence in Eastern Europe continues, 100 high school students from the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the former Soviet Union will meet with Washington leaders April 11 to 17 to learn about democracy firsthand. A Washington, D.C. Civic Education program, coordinated by the Close Up Foundation, will enable these students to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of democratic concepts such as civic responsibility, citizen empowerment, volunteerism, and community action.

These students are participants in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, a federal government program funded under the Freedom Support Act and U.S. Information Agency (USIA)-based funds. They were selected through an essay contest to participate in the Civic Education workshop and gain first-hand experience of our democratic form of government. This year's FLEX program includes individuals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

The FLEX program provides opportunities for high school students from the NIS to spend a year in the United States, living with a family and attending an American high school. The program's major goal is democracy building by introducing likely future leaders of these countries to our democratic society, community-based civic initiatives, and market economy. Students compete for places in the FLEX program through an open, rigorous, merit-based selection process that emphasizes academic performance, English language competence, and personal qualities. More than 42,000 NIS high school students applied for the 925 FLEX positions available for the 1998/1999 academic year.

"There is no better way for these students to learn the concepts of democracy and a civil society than experiencing them firsthand through spending a year in the U.S. and participating in this Washington, D.C. program. In past years, FLEX students have returned to their countries with a greater appreciation of democratic principles and a strong desire to become active citizens," said Acting USIA Director, Penn Kemble.

"The Close Up Foundation is proud to have been selected by USIA to administer the Washington program," said Stephen A. Janger, president and founder, Close Up Foundation. "Students will attend workshops on democracy-related issues, meet U.S. government officials, and undergo extensive training in how to develop and effectuate a community action plan."

A highlight of their Washington experience is a day on Capitol Hill where many will meet members of Congress. They also will study the media, meet with senior U.S. officials, participate in several community service activities, and visit monuments and other historical sites. Additionally, the students will join other Close Up students from the U.S. to compare and review civic rights and responsibilities.

"One of our goals is to show the students that each individual can have an impact on his or her community, no matter where in the world that community may be," said Janger.

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The United States Information Agency, headed by Acting Director Penn Kemble, is an independent foreign affairs agency within the executive branch that explains and supports U.S. foreign policy and national security interests abroad through a wide range of information programs. The Agency promotes mutual understanding between the United States and other countries through a series of educational and cultural exchange activities.

USIA's programs include the Voice of America, Radio and TV Mart­, the WORLDNET satellite television system, the daily Washington File newswire, the Fulbright scholarship program, the International Visitor Program, the Speakers and Specialists Program, three Foreign Press Centers in the United States, and a network of overseas resource and cultural centers. The Agency has 190 posts in 141 countries.

The USIA domestic server can be accessed through or through most search engines on the Internet.

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