Nearly two years ago, two professionals from New Zealand spent two weeks working at Albany City Hall on a project to help with improving citizen understanding of urban renewal districts and how they work. The work of our visitors was funded by the U.S. State Department as one of many thousands of exchanges that take place every year through programs such as Fulbright Scholarships and the Professional Fellows Program.

We have been fortunate to be accepted as a host community again this year and will soon welcome two professional researchers and planners; one from Indonesia and the other from Cambodia. Dr. Seila Sar and Mr. Sugeng Hartanto will be here for about a month, working on some planning issues that we hope will match their skills and interests with some of our immediate needs. These exchanges are not designed to be vacations and require a significant amount of investment from participants.

Dr. Sar describes his research interests as focusing on “rural development, food security, and nutrition….” He earned his Ph.D. in Nutrition and Food Sciences from the University of Queensland in Australia and is currently working as a quantitative specialist for the Asia Foundation, a U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) in Cambodia. Mr. Hartanto describes himself as a civil servant who works in the planning office in Semarang City, Indonesia. He earned a Master’s Degree in Urban Development Planning from Diponegoro University and a BA in Public Administration from Semarang University. I think we will have a great opportunity to learn from their fresh perspective on some of our current issues.

The Fellows Program also involves sending a representative from the City abroad, and our Planning Manager Bob Richardson was selected to travel to Cambodia this summer as part of the exchange. Bob spent some time working in the South African country of Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer before starting his planning career. He will be working with Dr. Sar in Cambodia.

While I have never participated in the Professional Fellows Program, I have seen the benefits it provides to communities and to the fellows. We gain some insight into our common concerns as well as the many differences among cities around the world, and the fellows learn lessons that will stay with them throughout their careers. Problem-solving, mutual understanding of different cultures, project ideas, appreciation for what you have, and exposure to new perspectives are just a few of the benefits that come from working internationally.

I hope people will take the time to welcome our visitors to Albany and have a conversation with them. They are scheduled to start work May 4 and will be here until around May 28. Anyone interested in hosting a guest for a view days or assisting with transportation needs should contact Bob Richardson or me.