It WAS an Open World!

Hi friends and followers,

Here at Traveling with Tom, we are hoping you are healthy and safe where ever you are in the world. While the title of this post might seem somewhat ominous, it’s not, just the description of what we experienced a few weeks ago and how the world has changed in such a short time. Here’s the story.

On Friday March 6, a couple of Friendship Force of Wisconsin-Madison Club (info here) members met five Open World delegates and their facilitator from Russia at the Madison airport. They came to us after spending two busy days in Washington, DC for orientation with other Open World delegations and sightseeing. We took them to meet their hosts, have a meal, and brief orientation to the week’s activities.Open World 2020-7209Open World 2020-7219

Before we move on, a little more about the Open World Leadership Center (click here for their website) that coordinates this program. Open World was created by Congressional action in 1999 to provide leadership development programs in the US for the former Soviet bloc countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova and the countries ending in stan. Funded by the Legislative branch, it’s administrative home is in the Library of Congress. Over the years, nearly 30,000 delegates have traveled to the US and have been hosted in all 50 states in 2400 communities with over 8,000 American families serving as home hosts. Each of the delegations comes with a theme usually related to some aspect of learning more about developing and sustaining a democratic society. It’s the responsibility of the local host organization to create the program around the selected theme providing at least 32 hours of theme based and cultural learning. Some of the themes we’ve hosted here in Madison related to government accountability, combating fake news, parliamentary journalism, and environmental sustainability and urban planning. Almost all the delegates are up and coming leaders in their field, in other words, young people in their 20’s and 30’s. The group we hosted this time came with the focus on learning more about educating women and girls to pursue careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). You might be thinking of the same thing we were, that in Soviet times there were was a lot of gender equality in those fields. We were told the key words are “in the Soviet times,” since the collapse of the USSR, fewer and fewer women and girls have pursed careers in STEM fields.

I’ve written articles about Open World in the past (click here and here), to date we’ve home hosted four delegates (two from Ukraine and two from Russia) and have enjoyed every one of them. Meet Yulia, the delegate that shared our home for the week. She’s an English teacher from St. Petersburg and is involved in a national organization that is promoting STEM education for women and girls. Her English is excellent so communication was a breeze. She was born and raised in a town in Siberia and went to the university in St. Petersburg before permanently settling there. Her sister also lives in St. Petersburg. Open World 2020-7389

Here’s a photo of the delegates at our welcome potluck dinner, from left to right: Andrey (the facilitator), Yelena, Marina, Mariya, Yuliya, and Yulia (with the microphone). They were a delightful group, full of questions and a lot of fun to be around.IMG_7525

I’ll give you a quick tour of what we did for the week while they were here. On Saturday, we had a tour of Madison Children’s Museum led by the director of education, Kia. They provide STEM related programs and activities to children and incorporate STEM into their permanent exhibits.IMG_7464IMG_7463IMG_7454Open World 2020-7241IMG_7460

In the afternoon, we took a tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol where our guests learned more about the history of the state.Open World 2020-7247IMG_7469IMG_7473

By mid afternoon we were free so Yulia and I walked down State Street to the Memorial Union Terrace, with several stops along the way including the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the University Bookstore and Memorial Union.IMG_7480IMG_7481

Near the Union, we observed these college students out on the ice near a very loud party at a fraternity house. Yulia asked why they were on the ice, it was slushy, and they weren’t wearing proper shoes and outer wear. I told her there are somethings that are unexplainable, they are young maybe their brains aren’t yet functioning at full capacity or maybe it’s the beer. I dunno!Open World 2020-7255

The next day was free until evening when we had the welcome potluck where our guests had a chance to try a variety of American dishes. During the day we took Yulia to Olbrich Gardens where the spring flower show was on, the outside gardens were open and the tropical garden was…well, tropical!Open World 2020-7256IMG_7512IMG_7488IMG_7490Open World 2020-7257Open World 2020-7261IMG_7495

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This was followed by a delicious lunch at the Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery on Atwood Avenue. And yes, we each a cupcake for dessert!IMG_7513

The rest of the afternoon was spent looking at art. First, we went to the UW Hospital to see the PhotoMidwest member exhibit on display in the surgery waiting area. Then we moved on to the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW campus where we could have spent a lot more time. It’s been awhile since I’ve been there and will make a point to make another visit after this virus situation resolves. The following photos are of an exhibit that captured my attention, it was multifaceted with lots of hidden meanings. IMG_7518Open World 2020-7286Open World 2020-7287Open World 2020-7288

As a farm boy, I couldn’t wrap my head around the meaning of this exhibit of an old four bottom plow with a wooden skull sitting on it. If one of my readers can give me a clue, I’d appreciate your help!IMG_7516

This huge photograph is fascinating, at least too me. It’s a modern reenactment of the Last Supper with an African-American twist. Very powerful and sad at the same time.IMG_7515

This art exhibit is installed over a window using different colored vinyl streamers. I like the patterns and the shadows.Open World 2020-7280

This glass exhibit overlooks the Campus Mall that leads to Lake Mendota and the Memorial Union. Open World 2020-7283

In the meantime, Yulia was checking out the Russian iconography exhibit, she said it was quite impressive. While I was waiting for her and my Traveling Partner (they were lost), I made a little art of my own using the patterns made by long afternoon shadows on the main floor of the Museum.IMG_7523Open World 2020-7278Open World 2020-7293

I accompanied the group a couple of the days they were on their learning mission. One day we took them to the UW Biotechnology Center where they met and learned from women who were pursuing careers in STEM fields.Open World 2020-7333Open World 2020-7338

This scientist took the group on a tour of their labs where they were doing transgenic research on mice. I loved the mice signs!IMG_7544IMG_7551IMG_7549IMG_7548

In the afternoon, we went to the Madison College (MATC) to meet with the head of International Programs and the head of the STEM center. We were taken on a tour of the STEM field learning facilities.IMG_7556IMG_7558IMG_7557Open World 2020-7363IMG_7573

Later in the afternoon the delegates gave a presentation on their STEM efforts followed by presentations by women MATC faculty on their work in promoting STEM to women and girls. It was a very impressive day with a lot of knowledge shared.IMG_7561Open World 2020-7354Open World 2020-7352

Beginning on Wednesday the virus situation began to have an affect on our program with some speakers cancelling with an abundance of caution. Our Thursday program was scheduled to be at the Mount Horeb High School Ag Sciences program. We couldn’t go to the school to physically see their facilities and talk to all the science and technology staff and meet students, so the teacher of agriculture came to us. She gave a presentation on her school program and answered a lot of questions. The best we could do in view of the current crisis. IMG_7576Open World 2020-7365Open World 2020-7367

We found out that day that our delegates were leaving a day early to make sure they could get back to Russia before flights and travel became more difficult. So we spent the afternoon taking them to shops, an activity that had been scheduled for the next day. We also kept our home hosted dinners where possible. Yulia, my Traveling Partner, and I dined with Jane and her guests, Marcia and Bob. We had a great time talking and sharing our travels and learning more about Russian life.IMG_7594IMG_7595

We had to be at the airport bright and early the next morning for our guests hasty departure for home. They were anxious to get back to their families but also sad to leave their hosts. Before they headed out we had an impromptu ceremony to award their program participation certificates. IMG_7604

Then we quickly snapped some photos of the delegates and their hosts.Open World 2020-7234Open World 2020-7372Open World 2020-7374Open World 2020-7376Open World 2020-7380Open World 2020-7385

There they go! We hope to see you again, either here in the US or when we visit Russia!Open World 2020-7384Open World 2020-7394

This photo symbolizes friendship, many countries, one people.IMG_7602

It was a great week cut short by the virus. All our visitors arrived safely back to their homes but are under a 14 day quarantine before they can return to work.

Up next week, I’m totally out of travel material but I’ll figure out something to write about.

Until then, happy sheltering in place!



6 thoughts on “It WAS an Open World!

  1. On behalf of all of us here at Open World, we appreciate your sharing such a beautiful depiction of the Madison delegation’s Open World experience. The photos were outstanding! While our participants are the heart of the Open World program, the host families in our host communities are the secret sauce. Your commitment to a unique home stay experience and to a superb professional program is exactly the reason why the Open World program is successful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments. I love the concept of Open World to help up and coming leaders learn and grow through their participation in our communities. It’s too bad that the pandemic had the power to limit the learning and experience for our delegates. I plan to continue my participation once things get back to somewhat normal. Thanks again. Tom

  2. Thanks for photo, caption and diary of the Russia delegation involving the STEM emphasis and the wonderful program provided them and their home hosts opening their home and hearts for this delegation.👏👍

  3. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for a wonderful summary of the program. The photos taken from the capitol were the best

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