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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks to Members of the Institute of International Education

1989-10-25

It's 8 years later, and I'm still 10 minutes late. [Laughter] But thank you very much, Dick, and distinguished Dr. Henry Kaufman. And I know I should say thank you to one of our own, Sichan Siv, over here, your former manager of Asian and Pacific programs and now a key member of our administration. And let me also say it's a delight to be among the supporters -- I recognize many of you -- of the Institute, the IIE. And then I had opportunity to greet some of the students that are here from foreign lands.

Let me tell you how I came to know of your achievements and, through that, appreciate what you do. Barbara and I were -- we moved down to Houston from Midland and were raising our family. And we have many fond memories of those days, but among our fondest is the delight of having young men and women from so many countries joining us for conversation and supper at our home. And we became involved with the Institute as a host family through Alice Pratt, whose dedicated work there is now being carried on by Fentress Bracewell down in Houston. I don't know whether Fentress is here, so I haven't spotted -- oh, here he is, right here in front. Delighted to see you. But it was Alice who taught us how rewarding it is to show a young foreign friend the way through the academic, business, and social maze of a vibrant American city. And because of Alice, we learned that by seeing our country through another's eyes, we could almost be like tourists in our own home.

And today at the White House, when Barbara and I dine with foreign visitors, our guests are rarely students. Rather, they are often foreign leaders and Presidents and Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries and Ambassadors. But we've noticed something that makes us think back to our Houston days: Many of our foreign guests once worked and studied in the United States. I was most impressed, Dick, by just that menu you read off there of how these kids come and then move into positions of leadership. And this is bound to be of benefit not just to the United States but to the other countries as well.

But you do more than bring the world to America: you open the cultures of the world to our people as well. Mark Twain said that the ``broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one's lifetime.'' Thomas Jefferson, our magnificent education President, enhanced such a broad, wholesome, and charitable view when he left the Piedmont, his beloved Piedmont of Virginia, to represent the American cause in France. And in more recent times, many Americans have had the liberating experience of living abroad. Certainly, Barbara and I felt transformed by the time that we spent living in China, a time when we sometimes traveled those dusty streets, always on our bicycles. But it was tremendous experience -- days we'll never forget. And of course, we learned a lot about the Chinese people. Most of all, we learned an awful lot more about ourselves. And every American who lives abroad returns home with a new perspective and, I believe, a deeper feeling for our own country.

Your Institute promotes just exactly this kind of understanding through 249 programs, assisting more than 10,000 people from 155 countries every year. Innumerable are the new friendships made, incalculable the good will that is generated.

When your organization was founded 70 years ago, there was a belief that the exchange of students, scholars, and professionals from country to country would promote peace and understanding. Some regarded that ideal as hopelessly naive. Well, now we know that that's not true. It is true that international exchanges are not a great tide to sweep away all differences, but they will slowly wear away at the obstacles to peace as surely as water wears away a hard stone.

And I am honored to be here. I would simply add: Keep it up. We are living in perhaps the most exciting time of change certainly in the nuclear age, and maybe in terms of the entire history of the United States, as we look at what's happening particularly in Eastern Europe, as we see what's happening in Asia, see what's happening, indeed, in the Soviet Union itself. And I can tell you that the interaction that we had with this wonderful organization makes me feel a little more confident as I wrestle with these problems. But far more important than that, I think, is that the insight that the kids that come here get into our great, free, wonderful country.

So, I'm grateful to you. I wanted to come over and thank you all very, very much for what you're doing. Please keep it up. And God bless you all. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Richard Krasno, Henry Kaufman, Alice Pratt, and Fentress Bracewell, president, chairman of the board, former director of the Houston office, and chairman of the southern regional advisory board of the Institute of International Education, respectively; and Sichan Siv, Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.

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