Outbound Project in Turkey: Celeste Gilman and Ali Onuralp Unal

Written by Celeste Gilman, Deputy Director, WSDOT Regional Transit Coordination

Time keeps marching on since my incredible two week trip to Ankara, Turkey in October 2019. These reflections on my trip are more than overdue. I think I have struggled to put into words the profound impact of my experience, for myself and (I hope) those who I met. The people, places, sights, sounds, and tastes are etched into my memory and I think of them almost every day, even as so much in the world has changed over the past few months.

Workshop for municipal staff
Workshop for municipal staff

My story starts in May of 2019 when I was given the opportunity to host Ali Onuralp Ünal, Ankara’s Director of International Projects. He came to Seattle for one month to learn about sustainable transportation, particularly bicycle transportation. Before my boss approached me, I had never heard of the American Councils for International Education or their programs. I was delighted to learn of their work and thrilled to be able to facilitate the sharing of expertise and experiences to help Ankara shift its transportation system in a direction that will improve people’s lives and reduce their contributions to the climate crisis.

Five months later, I traveled for 24 hours across 10 time zones to be an honored guest of the municipality of Ankara. On my first day there, I met with Mayor Mansur Yavas. Mayor Yavas was crystal clear about the importance of putting people first in the transportation system. The enthusiasm and sense of common enterprise of his team was palpable and infectious. Everywhere I went, people expressed their frustration with the car-dominated legacy of the past. The experience of being in Ankara in October 2019, just six months into Mayor Yavas’ first term, was like being in a drought-stricken meadow after the rains had returned and life was rebounding with a staggering vigor. The openness to change, hopefulness, and enthusiasm was impressive.

Visiting the Ankara Technopark
Visiting the Ankara Technopark

My hosts arranged a packed schedule of meetings and presentations. I met with members of parliament, advisors to President Erdogan, the head of the air quality management department, emerging businesses in their Technopark business incubator, non-profit staff, university professors, and many others. I presented at METU and Ankara universities and for city planning and architecture/engineering professional associations. I conducted a day-long workshop for 20 municipal transportation professionals and met with staff from the US Embassy in Ankara. The information I shared distilled more than two decades of my learning, working, andliving sustainable transportation into an hour-long conceptual toolkit that was simple enough to translate across languages. The majority of my presentations and meetings were in Turkish. I had an incredible translator, Timur Tikriti, and we quickly developed a strong partnership.

While this was a work intensive trip and they fully utilized the opportunity of my being in Ankara, hospitality and culture were a defining theme of my trip. I had a whole hosting team. Isa Coskun was my home base and guide extraordinaire. He not only made sure all the logistics were in order for the day’s work, he spent evening after evening showing off the arts, culture, history, and cuisine of Ankara. Ali Onuralp Ünal and his wife also treated us to the opera to see Aida. Mevlude Sahillioglu is the amazing local coordinator of the American Councils for International Education and ensured everything was orchestrated flawlessly and connected me with past fellows and many others. One memorable night we had dinner with a whole group of PFP fellows. I was highly impressed by the accomplishments, thoughtfulness, initiative, and diversity of backgrounds and interests of that illustrious group of young professionals. My husband was able to travel with me on my trip and Mevlude helped connect him with people working in his field of immigration. We joked that he was having his own outbound trip at the same time.

Dropping in on ney lessons
Dropping in on ney lessons

For me professionally, it was incredibly rewarding to be able to share my expertise with such enthusiastic audiences in a place that is hopefully at the outset of a profound transformation. The municipality of Ankara has recently begun construction on its first 54 kilometers of protected bicycle paths to connect seven of the city’s universities and two of the largest industrial areas with their closest Metro stops. The bicycle has been hugely neglected as a mode of transportation in Ankara, and this infrastructure will start to change that. This new investment in bicycling could not be better timed, as cities around the world turn to the bicycle as a safe and sustainable urban transportation solution in times of pandemic and climate crisis. The city also has a highly utilized public transportation system and retains much of its pedestrian oriented form (even if people are too often marginalized by both moving and unoccupied vehicles). An important part of the foundation of sustainable transportation is recognizing, preserving, and building upon the best transportation facilities and services a city already has, and I brought an outsider’s view to help the people of Ankara appreciate the existing strengths of their transportation system.

Towards the end of my visit, we met with staff at the American Embassy. I greatly appreciate their support and enthusiasm. They spoke of the potential for future grants and organizational assistance for continued collaboration. Their support of the municipality’s work is wonderful to see and I would be delighted to continue my involvement as well.

I look forward to someday returning to Ankara to drink tea with my friends and to tour the city by bicycle with my family. Tesekkur ederim to Ali Onuralp Ünal, Isa Coskun, Timur Tikriti, Mevlude Sahillioglu, Demet Hüsrevoğlu, Davron Mirsagatov and Viktorija Sapundzi at the American Councils, the American Embassy, and all the amazing people of Ankara I met on my extraordinary trip.

Turkish coffee and tea at METU university with friends
Turkish coffee and tea at METU university




Alumni Highlight: Reuniting with Denver Fellowship hosts and Tackling the U.S. Bar Exam

Written by Ketevan Vashakidze, PFP Spring 2018 Alumna from GeorgiaLawyer at the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia, Human Rights Division

I am very happy that I managed to visit United States in February 2020, before the Covid -19 pandemic broke out. I had two reasons to go back.

First, I took the Washington DC Jurisdiction Bar exam. A lawyer needs to pass this exam in order to be allowed to practice law in the United States. I successfully passed it and this achievement significantly extends my professional capacity. I will try to make the most of this opportunity and have a larger impact with my work.

Second, after taking the bar exam, I went to Colorado to visit my PFP Spring 2018 host organization – Colorado Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice.

With Colorado Public Safety Department Criminal Justice Division Staff
With Colorado Public Safety Department Criminal Justice Division Staff

I was also looking forward to see my host family: Joe Thome, Cynthia Huerta -Thome and our new family member the Golden Retriever Oscar. The reunion in the Denver airport was emotional. Even though, my life is full of adventures and joy, I have not been that happy very often. It felt like returning home. The fact is, my host family has really become my second family.


Host family
With my Host family

Over these two years my host organization Colorado Department of Public Safety has become a strong professional ally, meeting my colleagues was exciting as well. Some of them have been promoted to higher positions, some retired, while others have stayed in their previous occupations. They invited me to attend Colorado Criminal Justice Forum, where 500 stakeholders gathered to plan ways to adopt best Criminal Justice practices, as long as Colorado Justice System has fair ambition to be prominent and highly responsive to contemporary challenges. I had a chance to meet prosecutors, defence counsels, legislators, community representatives, the governor, and many other specialists involved in justice reform. We were all happy to share our stories, exchange our experiences and plan future activities.

I want to thank the American Councils team, PFP program team, Colorado Public Safety Department, my mentor Meg Handel Williams, and my host family Cynthia and Joe  for giving me the opportunity, and supporting and inspiring me to work with my United States colleagues who remain my reliable contacts when it comes to professional advice and support.

With Colorado Senator Pete Lee
With Colorado Senator Pete Lee

Furthering the Fellowship: Public Transportation Project in Ankara

Ali Onuralp Unal, Spring 2019 Fellow from Turkey 

Coordinator of Projects Department of Ankara Municipality

US Foreign Ministry

After the Professional Fellowship program in 2019, Ali Onuralp Unal returned home to Turkey and began working on major projects in the transportation field. While working as a fellow at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Unal contributed to the establishment of bicycle infrastructure under the leadership of Celeste Gilman and Roger Miller. After this experience, he brought new ideas to the Ankara city bike path Project, implemented in 2020. Celeste Gilman, supervisor of Unal in WSDOT, visited Turkey for a bike infrastructure Project in this year.

In addition, Unal worked on improving the public transport system in Ankara. He works closely with United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and suggested an optimisation system Project idea to USTDA. Apart from the established methods, this idea was very different to optimise public transport. Ankara Public Transport Authority will increase the capacity of public transport lines, bus stops, drivers and busses thanks to this optimisation Project.

The project plans to implement analytical modelings and integrations, taking into account population density and mobility to calculate the mobile application. After the Project, it is estimated that public transport efficiency will increase 10% in Ankara. USTDA and Ankara Metropolitan Municipality signed a 1.25 million dollar grant to fund these efforts, and the American company SAS also contributed 1.25 million dollars, totalling 2.5 million dollars for this project to date.

Of his experience in the Professional Fellows Program, Mr. Unal said;

“I applied to the PFP program in 2019 and was selected as a fellow. America experience was unforgettable for me. We had very good memories with my team there. After leaving the US, they published a very good article with my name on the official institution blogs. They explained our work in detail. The important thing was to bring the good practices to my country. This project isone of the results of PFP. As a Turkish citizen, I am happy to serve my country. The Professional Fellowship program has been an important milestone in my life. I recommend this unbelievable program to every Professional. I thank the American Councils and its valuable staff. “

Ali unal

Enduring Impacts of the Professional Fellows Program

Written by Ion Schidu, Spring 2018 Fellow from Moldova

Following my participation as a Spring 2018 PFP Fellow with the the City of Boston Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities, I was able to implement reciprocal project in Chisinau, Moldova.  In partnership with an NGO in Chisinau for people with disabilities, Centre for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CDPD), led by an IVLP alum (Vitalie Mester), our PFP reciprocal project focused on facilitating the creation of a permanent mechanism of engagement of the local city hall with the people with disabilities, similar to that of the Boston Disability Commission. During the project,  Jessica Doonan, the Chief of Staff of the Boston Disability Commission travelled to Moldova and  participated in a series of public events with the representatives of Chisinau city hall and organizations of people with disabilities in order to exchange best practices and to eventually support the configuration of  a similar mechanism within the Chisinau city hall.

Ion 1
Ms. Jessica Donnan meeting with the Vice Mayor and the heads of departments and City agencies

As a consequence of these events and other advocacy work done by local NGOs, at the beginning of 2019, the mayor of Chisinau appointed an adviser on accessibility and established a Consultative Council for people with disabilities. Additionally, the mayor agreed to resume implementation of the two-year action plan on accessibility of Chisinau, agreed upon by organizations of people with disabilities and the former mayor. In order to research ways in which we could improve the current configuration and function of engagement with the Chisinau city hall, I began a policy fellowship at Open Society Foundation Moldova.

In December 2019, after continued advocacy and engagement, our group shared the preliminary findings of the policy paper with the representatives of the organizations of people with disabilities, Open Society Foundations and the newly appointed vice mayor agreed to take further steps for strengthen the commitments of the city hall in regards to the accessibility needs of people with disabilities from Chisinau, including: adopting the necessary normative framework in order to ensure the efficient functioning of the Accessibility adviser; consolidating the Consultative council; and organizing regular meetings with the extended community of people with disabilities from Chisinau.

Ion 2
Ms. Jessica Doonan, PFP Alumni and the staff of CDPD wearing the t-shirts and caps of the campaign “Chisinau – accessible for everyone”

Recently, a network of organizations of people with disabilities met the newly appointed decision-makers from the Chisinau city hall in order to discuss the needs of the community and the ways in which the local administration plans to mainstream accessibility needs in its work. Along with confirming its intent to strengthen the engagement mechanism that the civil society organizations (and the Professional Fellows Program) have contributed to, the city hall will initiate drafting an action plan for accessibility of Chisinau, with the participation of organizations of people with disabilities. 

Similar processes of mobilization for the empowerment of people with disabilities are currently taking place in other regions of the country. Baltsi – the second largest city in the country – is one of the examples where a PFP fellow with the support of the U.S. Embassy, is leading in consolidating the community of people with disabilities for participation, inspired by the experience from Chisinau. We had a similar vision for projects in other two cities in the country where there are PFP/USG alumni.

Even though there is still much work ahead, it’s quite exciting to see the outcomes so far!

Ion 3

Reflections on an Outbound Project in Laos

written by Katie Neginskiy, Manager of Vocational and English Language Training at Heartland Alliance

I have just returned from my very valuable time in Savannakhet, Laos with Bounmy at Laos3her organization, New World Training Institute. We had three main points of focus. First, I spent time teaching the English classes and demonstrating techniques for the teachers. This was useful for both students and teachers because the teachers at the school are not native English speakers and they learned English from non-native speakers, so pronunciation is a challenge. We also created a program plan for her English classes and incorporated a “pen pal” program where her students will be exchanging projects regarding Lao life and culture with my students who will return projects to Bounmy’s students regarding US life and culture.

Second, I wanted to learn about the structure of vocational programming at different organizations in Laos, all of which focus on women, because I am currently trying to build similar programming at my organization in Chicago, for refugee women. Third, we spent time writing a grant application that she will submit in February, building a budget, and outlining reporting mechanisms to help Bounmy secure American funding. The entire project was useful for both me and Bounmy, but I think she most needed my help with honing her grant writing and budget making skills. Her programming is already impressive, but she needs more money to expand her offerings, and therefore needs additional funding. Her programming is a great pitch for funders, but she needed help designing outcomes, metrics, and reporting mechanisms for American grants. I so appreciate the gift of this time in Laos, to have been able to lend my experience to a valuable project in Savannakhet and also learn so much that I could bring back and use at my own organization, Refugee and Immigrant Community Services. It truly was an invaluable time.


How Openness to New Experiences and People Enriches Your Life

Written by Liliia Maliarchuk, Fall 2019 Professional Fellow from Ukraine

One of the great sources of motivation for my participation in the Professional Fellows Program was the possibility of living with an American family during my fellowship. As people are the main source of inspiration for me when traveling to other countries. I always want to engage in conversation with local people, get to know them, their values, stories, perspectives and to learn from their experiences. This always gives me a better understanding of a new country, its culture, history, aspirations for the future. In a very powerful way, it enriches me personally and makes the journey very memorable and inspirational.

liliia 1

Receiving the first letter from my host family from Newton which is in Massachusetts, I felt that it was a perfect match for me. I was even happier after arriving and having our first dinner together. I had my first weekend with the family even before seeing the other important part of the PFP – work placement – and I was already 100 % certain that my stay in the US would be very meaningful, fulfilling, and satisfying.

My hosts, Suzanne and Bill (and their two cats – Boris and Blue cat), warmly welcomed me into their family. Every day we had unforgettable dinners with meals from every corner of the world, as Suzanne loves to cook. Almost every day, I eat dishes I have never tried before in a very inspirational atmosphere with great music, candles and inspiring conversations that enrich my life with new perspectives and experiences.


To my surprise, my host family had a connection to Ukraine, as Suzanne’s first husband was Ukrainian, but was born outside of Ukraine during the Second World War. Even though he has never lived in Ukraine, he and his family kept Ukrainian traditions and family legacy over the years and Ukraine has been an important part of their family story. The garden has many beautiful flowers among which are flowers that grew from seeds family brought from Ukraine when escaping the war. The seeds traveled through many countries and continents and found  new home in Suzanne’s house in Newton.

My Professional Fellows experience is great and a big part of this is due to my host family and the people I met here. They keep their hearts and minds open, and their perspectives contribute a lot to creating a personal change in every person in their lives. I have enjoyed every minute with my family and now I am strongly committed to introducing sports, dances and even more books into my life, no matter how busy it will be.


A month’s experience worth remembering for a lifetime

written by Hsu Wai Htun, Fall 2019 Fellow from Myanmar

The first time I heard about YSEALI was several years ago through social media. Then I kept getting familiar with the program as I’ve come across my Facebook newsfeed which was to an extent, filled with the posts of my friends who joined the different YSEALI programs. Even without knowing the details of the program, I thought it is pretty cool to work and learn in the US for a few weeks. Then I started exploring the program, I made up my mind if there comes the right time, I will go for the program.

Now, chances have been taken. With the help and support of families, friends and colleagues, I am here in the US, even already at the end of the YSEALI PFP. This almost 6-weeks program was not a life-changing experience, but it was a life experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.

YSEALI PFP opened a lot of doors for me for my personal and professional development. It was not an easy thing to immerse in a whole new culture for weeks, but it has allowed us to progress to a next level of adaptability and flexibility.

My placement is at US-ASEAN Business Council, which does things very similar to what I have been doing back home and it also runs programs which are aligned with my personal interest. So, the 4-weeks-time at the Council was an opportunity for me to learn and contribute.

Living with a host family was also a whole new experience for me. I am and will ever be grateful to the host family for being very kind, nice and hospitable during our stay. I’ve never thought complete strangers can be this good to complete strangers. It was an eye-opener for me. The random conversations that I had with my host parents from little things about food to politics will stay forever in my memory.

Coming from a country with winter temperature of 25 degree Celsius or even higher, I have to say the weather was brutal and was even regretting to have joined the fall program. But thanks to a friend and host mom who lent winter clothes to keep me warm. J So, here is a word of advice to future fellows – bring enough warm clothes. It can be freezing here. J

Halloween was a lot more fun than I imagined. I never thought I would be curving pumpkins, but I nailed it. Volunteering at the neighborhood Halloween parade and party made my Halloween experience even more complete and fascinating. I truly felt I was experiencing the American culture.

What is the most pleasing to me is that I made it to 5 States within a short time. I worked in DC, lived in Virginia and visited around Maryland, Connecticut and the New York. I think I made the most out of it.

I’ve experienced a lot of the-very-first-in-life things in this trip – the very first time to the US, first experience under minus temperature, first time working as a professional fellow, first host family experience and a lot of other very fascinating first experiences.

What I like most about the program is that the program does not end as we fly back to our countries. There are always chances for us to work together with American counterparts with the support of the program. Being able to be part of the YSEALI alumni is already a fruitful opportunity, I would say.

Thanks to everyone who made it. I believe all the fellows including me, are and will forever be thankful for the efforts you have put in to contribute to the development of ASEAN through this incredible program. Thank you for making us feel we matter.

Learning and Working at Hawai’i Small Business Development Center

written by Triyanti Mandasari, Fall 2019 Fellow from Indonesia

I am currently participating as a fellow for the YSEALI Professional Fellows Program. This program provides young leaders from Southeast Asia countries the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in the United States, including working directly with American organizations. Fellows will be able to improve their leadership skills, professional networks and practical expertise while working in an international environment. This program also gives the opportunity to those young leaders to gain more understanding about American cultures by living with a host family.

I am being placed at Hawaii Small Business Development Center (SBDC). SBDC is a source to small business owners, providing advice, research, training to new entrepreneurs and even they help those entrepreneurs make financial statement. It’s related to what I do back in my country where I am as a Relationship Manager at a state-owned bank. My job includes distributing capital loans to small business owners, assist them to improve their businesses and help them make financial statement, because there are only a few of them being able to make financial statement and I also educate them to make their financial statement themselves in order to create accurate data.

UH Innovation Center

The last two days of working at SBDC, I attended an event aimed at small business owners to be able to do business with federal organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of The Navy. This event was held in order to give tips to small business owners about doing a partnership with those organizations where small business owners will be able to sell their products to them because it’s more difficult for small business owners to do business with federal organizations than corporations are. That’s why this event was a useful resource for them.

One of the federal organizations that gave a presentation was FEMA. FEMA is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, initially created by Triyanti StoryPresidential Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 and implemented by two Executive Orders on April 1, 1979. The agency’s primary purpose is to coordinate the response to a disaster that has occurred in the United States and that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. FEMA presented about tips and steps doing a partnership with FEMA, top commodities procured to support disaster that might be supplied by those small business owners.  Using The Industry Liaison Program (ILP), where it created a process that ensures information about a company’s products or services is routed to the appropriate FEMA contracting and acquisition professionals for possible supplemental market research.

I am so glad that I attended this kind of event because I really want to know how American organizations or institutions support local small business owners to expand their businesses.

Outbound Project in Moldova: Justice Sabrina McKenna and Vasile Vasiliev

Written by Justice Sabrina McKenna, Hawaii Supreme Court


At the invitation of PFP Fellow Vasile Vasiliev, who was with our court in May of this year, I was privileged to visit Chisinau, Moldova in October 2019 as an Outbound Fellow.  The purpose of my trip was not only to discuss the importance of an independent and ethical judiciary to a democracy and to economic development, but also to have Moldova see an example of a LGBT leader in public service, especially in the judiciary.

During my visit to Moldova, I met with LGBT and women’s groups, including UN Women of Moldova.  In addition, I had several one engagements with members of Moldovan judiciary which is extremely important in supporting Moldovan independence and Governance.

I spoke at the National Judicial Institute and State University’s Law Department regarding the topics of Judicial Independence and Ethics, which are necessary components of the Rule of Law.  I was also able to speak to many young people at the America House regarding Empowering Women Through The Law.  Preparing for my talks, however, allowed me to focus on the Rule of Law requirement that judiciaries be diverse and reflect the communities they serve.  I was therefore able to bring in diversity issues to my talks, and now plan to discuss this aspect of the Rule of Law within the United States as well.  I left Moldova with cautious optimism that the youth of Moldova will help guide the country to democratic ideals and economic development.

Fellowship at UDC, Center for Urban Agriculture and Gardening Education, Washington D.C.

written by Muhammad Nurfaiz Abd Kharim, Fall 2019 Fellow from Malaysia

I’ve been working at an agriculture technology company back in my country and wanted my professional fellowship to be in the field of agro-technology transfer, gardenentrepreneurship, research, and community empowerment. Therefore; my placement is at the University of The District of Columbia (UDC), College of Agricultural, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences under Center for Urban Agriculture and Gardening Education. This is a community empowerment center through knowledge and gardening technique transfer program used to address “food deserts” in the surrounding metropolitan area. Food deserts or food swamps are called that to represent areas that have no full-service grocery store within a one-mile radius. The result of this is a lack of access to high quality, affordable, fresh food results in insufficiency for a significant number of the metropolitan households. Among the damaging effects on children are impaired cognitive development, lower education attainments, slower physical and mental growth, lack of school readiness and reduced in social development.

73322273_10215143954047964_3556873335071571968_nTherefore, UDC has built a prominent and successful urban agriculture and urban sustainability program that is the Urban Food Hubs model. This program exemplifies the commitment of the university to tackle the issue of food insufficiency within neighborhoods of Washington D.C. by highlighting four components; food production, food preparation, food distribution, and waste and water recovery. This allows them to provide access to fresh food, create more jobs, improve public health, mitigate water management problems thus creating urban resiliency.

The host placement at the UDC is a really good match and the best platform for me to learn and gain experiences as I expected. Even though it’s only been a week at the host placement, I had a chance to participating in a seminar, perform hands on field work at the farm and meet several people within my field. Therefore; seeing them here and making observations gave me the inspiration to start similar programs or practices once I return home.

In fact, since joining this program I’ve had the chance to meet fellows from the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative and Eurasia Professional Fellows Program which allowed me to exchange several ideas and knowledge for later outbound project that can give impactful to our community back in our countries. This opportunity will be among the most memorable experiences of my fellowship.

ASEAN handshake
“Fall 2019 YSEALI Fellows doing the ASEAN handshake representing mutual understanding, respect, and peace”