Interview with Alumni Representative Aleksandr Muravets
May 22, 2009
“I have seen with my own eyes how dramatically delegates’ opinions about Americans change…”
The second in Open World’s series of Alumni Representative interviews focuses on Samara Region’s Aleksandr Muravets. Muravets, a non-practicing medical doctor, is the general director of a Samara-based non-governmental organization (NGO) called “Time to Live,” which conducts training and educational seminars on HIV/AIDS prevention, negotiation skills, public speaking techniques, and other topics. Muravets has served as a facilitator for the Open World Program since 2003. Open World sat down with Muravets May 15 when he was in Washington, D.C. facilitating a group of medical doctors from his hometown. Muravets and his delegation were hardly strangers during the day-long orientation; they all graduated from the same medical school in Samara. The group was hosted in St. Louis, MO by the Greater St. Louis-Samara Sister City Committee.
OW: Thank you for visiting with us today, Aleksandr. Please tell us what you do when you are not facilitating Open World delegations or working with Open World alumni as an Alumni Representative (AR)?
AM: I am a physician and practiced for eight years, but I now head a medical prevention non-governmental organization. The NGO is much broader than it started out to be – we work on a variety of issues such as HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, smoking and alcohol cessation, and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
OW: What region do you cover as an Open World Alumni Representative?
AM: Mostly the Samara Region, but also parts of the Saratov, Moscow regions and other regions in Central and Northern Russia.
OW: Do you have any feedback or advice for hosts on working with facilitators or Alumni Representatives?
AM: I believe that the work of American hosts is really effective. The only place that I can think of to suggest improvement is in making contact with facilitators before the trip happens; communicating before the trip should be a routine activity. When a delegation is preparing for their trip it can be complicated to suggest changes or additions to the local program. Early communication allows hosts and delegates to establish a good connection and resolve issues before travel.
OW: Let’s say communications go well, the delegation is successful, there are partnerships arising out of the experience and a host decides to plan a reciprocal visit to see their alumni. Would you be able to help facilitate this?
AM: Yes, of course! I believe the main fear that alumni may have when it comes to helping plan a U.S. host’s travel to Russia to see alumni is not financially-related or a matter of time constraints; they are afraid of the paperwork. It’s really an awful amount of paperwork, or so they believe, to invite an American. Olga Petrova (an employee of Open World’s logistical contractor American Councils - Moscow) wrote a really useful article for the Russian-language alumni bulletin that goes into the invitation process in detail, a step by step description.
OW: What is the most interesting alumni project or partnership you have seen in the region you represent?
AM: In my opinion, the most interesting projects are the ones that can combine different levels of expertise, different kinds of professionals. So the most interesting types of projects are those completed by those Open World delegates who are able to design and implement projects together in Russia. Another important issue, as far as projects and partnerships go, involves the diversity of the group, and significant joint interests. As an example, there was a group of law enforcement and medical specialists from Saratov Oblast. Historically, there is a communication barrier between law enforcement and medical professionals in Russia. But during the Open World trip (December 2007, Montgomery County, MD, hosted by the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center) they understood that they are all actually doing the same thing; it is beneficial for all of them if they can communicate. This type of result is really important.
OW: What would you like to say to the U.S. hosts that will be reading this interview?
AM: Only a big thank you! The hosts are doing great work on a voluntary basis; I have seen with my own eyes how dramatically delegates’ opinions about Americans change, primarily because of their American hosts’ warm hospitality.