Albany has now hosted three sets of “International Fellows” through a program administered by the International City-County Management Association on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Our first fellows were Stephanie and Jennie from New Zealand, and they were followed by Sugeng and Seila from Indonesia and Cambodia respectively. The program requires our visitors to observe our practices and then write their thoughts and impressions about our efforts in areas that are of interest to them.
Vermon and Vathanak are currently working out of the Planning Division and sharing their experiences in blog postings at the following address: http://icma.org/en/icma/knowledge_network/blogs/blog/18/Professional_Fellows_Exchange_Program. The site contains postings from fellows working across the United States, and it’s interesting to read the perspectives of visitors who work in occupations similar to ours in their own countries. The common theme I’ve observed in the writings and through our experiences in Albany is gratitude. The fellows all seem very grateful to be here and anxious to learn.
I was talking with Vermon and Vathanak as we returned from a trip to Portland this week and was again struck by how much I have to learn from their insights. We haven’t had any discussions about technical issues (thankfully), but we have talked about leadership and what we would like to see in our own communities. We share many common values and goals for the future, despite the differences in our cultures.
My selfish motivations for participating in this program are the opportunities I have to show off our city and state, as well as the great conversations with enthusiastic young people. Positive attitudes are infectious, and seeing the joy of someone as we explore an old growth forest or hike down to the shores of Crater Lake inspires me to appreciate what we have here and not take this place for granted.
The fellowship program has also confirmed the kindness and generosity of City staff who have taken the time not just to explain their jobs, but also to serve as tour guides and hosts. Our Mayor has set a great example by giving guided city tours to all of the fellows over the past few years. Others may not realize that Mayor Konopa would probably do that for anyone who asks. Our visitors have been amazed at the commitment of our volunteer elected officials, and one commented that the reason people seek office in his country is to get rich.
The best answer I can give to anyone who wonders why the City of Albany has participated in this program is that I think it represents an opportunity to inspire and refresh ourselves. I need, and I think most people do as well, periodic reminders of what’s good in life, particularly at work. I hope anyone who may be feeling a little negative or cynical will take a few minutes to talk with Vermon and Vathanak. They will be here until November 6, working out of the small conference room in Planning.