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




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.


Feeding the World

written by Duane Voy, St Paul Regional Office Director, USDA Risk Management Agency

Visiting different places is a great way to expand thinking beyond the silos we normally work in.  It can spur new ideas but also show how much people have in common, such as a need for food and food security.    USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management.  USDA also has a vision to provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation’s natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.


May 11-25, 2019, St Paul Regional Office Director Duane Voy, had the opportunity through the U.S. State Department Professional Fellows Program (PFP) to travel to Azerbaijan to listen, learn, and interact with farmers, processors, educators, government officials, insurance companies, and banks to discuss agriculture development.

Azerbaijan’s agricultural producers do not have adequate capital to invest in newer technologies to make their farming operations more efficient and productive. Bankers and lending institutions are cautious about lending large sums of money to agricultural producers because of the frequency and severity of losses due to uncontrollable events such as weather.

60096521_10156404012253087_4132880014842527744_n.jpgOne initiative is to bring technology to farmers through a display Expo called Caspian Agro.   U.S. Ambassador Lee Litzenberger is pictured with Director Voy at the U.S. Pavilion of Caspian Agro, where seven U.S. agricultural companies were displaying their products and technology.  Director Voy also attended the USAID and US Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce MOU signing ceremony at the home of William Gill, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy.  Mr. Voy also met with the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Inam Karimov who visited Illinois in April and is planning to visit Oklahoma in September.

Director Voy spoke at the elite Academy of Public Administration and met with the Assistant to the President for Agrarian Policy Issues, Dr. Azer Amiraslanov and Mirza Aliyev, Chairman of the Agency for Agro Credit and Development (AKIA) about agricultural issues, agro credit, crop insurance, agricultural data, and agrarian initiatives of the President.

Near the town of Ismaylli, is a Russian community and farm called Ivanovka.  The farm grows grapes, produces wine, grows wheat, forage, and other crops organically.  Ivanovka has its own brand label which is recognized as organic and good quality. The farm would like to invest in milking machines but has not been able to access the agricultural credit for many needed upgrades.  Banks see agricultural investment as very risky and charge interest rates of 16% or more.  Azerbaijan was very interested in the USDA low interest loan programs that help agricultural producers obtain access to affordable low interest loans.


After traveling back to Baku, Director Voy met with the major insurance companies (ASA) and lenders interested in the crop insurance program being established in Azerbaijan, followed by a television interview (ARB) on the purpose of the visit.

The U.S. Embassy, Azerbaijan government, and the Universities all invited Director Voy to return and not wait 5 years to do so. Azerbaijan is a developing country with wonderful people, history, and culture.

Outbound Project in Indonesia: Jerod Lockhart and Nicky Pratiwi

written by Jerod Lockhart, Training Officer, Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

This was my first  time traveling overseas, I can genuinely state that it was a trip that will be embedded in my memory for a lifetime! My YSEALI PFP Outbound Project was hosted by fellow Nicky Pratiwi, the general manager of Thisable Enterprise, a local NGO that specializes in improving the economic empowerment for people with disabilities in Indonesia in urban and rural areas. Thisable Enterprise mission mirrors many of initiatives my office undertakes in the domain of transitioned-aged employment.

Bina NusantaraDuring a workshop at PSBN Tan Miyat Bekasi – School for the Blind, I was able to share the podium with individuals from the blind and disabled community who shared stories of overcoming adversity and strategies to help encourage young students and their parents to achieve their dreams. For example, I had the pleasure of meeting both a law and an architectural student who both vowed to use their education to advance the civil rights of people with disabilities. Furthermore, I also participated in a Q & A session with an advocate, and the parents of the students who attended the school. One of the most interesting questions I received from one of the students was how to get the government to endorse and provide more funding towards improving architectural accessibility, similar to the way we have it in the United States. I assured them that we still a long way to go to achieving full participation and citizenship for PWD; however, to keep pressuring government officials to make accessibility a priority for all.

I had the opportunity to visit Bina Nusantara (Bina University) where I was able to present to faculty and staff tasked with providing accessibility services for disabled students. Many disabled students are given scholarships to attend college; therefore the need to increase equal access was heightened. I gave a similar talk to stakeholders at Daya Dimensi Indonesia, one of the top leadership consulting firms in Indonesia, who were looking to connect employers with qualified candidates with disabilities.

My YSEALI PFP Outbound Project also included time to visit some of the beautiful sites inMasjid Istiqlal Jakarta; including President Barack Obama’s childhood school, U.S. Embassy, Indonesia’s independence monument, The Grand Indonesian Mall, and finally Masjid Istiqlal – the national mosque of the Republic of Indonesia. Nicky’s team (including Pratiwi) made me feel welcomed at every stop on our itinerary. Nicky was extremely hospitable; for example, she offered assistance when I needed an interpreter, transportation to cultural sites and food choices while dining at Padang Merdeka. Additionally, the visit to the U.S. Embassy was very enlightening. The new facility highlighted several Indonesia artists, as well as a history lesson of the U.S. Navy liberation of Indonesia from the Japanese during WWII. The people of Indonesia are some of the friendliest and respectful people I’ve come encountered. I hope I was able to provide as much knowledge regarding disability advocacy as I learned from Nicky and her colleagues, “Terima Kasih,  – Thank You.”

I want to thank the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, U.S. Department of State, American Councils for International Education, YSEALI PFP Outbound Project, Thisable Enterprise, Jaimie Holmes and Mauli Whitney from the American Councils for International Education for making this project successful. I also would like to thank, Emily, Renny, Gatut, and Putra from the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section for the tour of the Embassy.

Outbound Project in Singapore: Greg Cooper and Mark Cheng

written by Greg Cooper, Senior Consultant, Deloitte Consulting LLP

I spent a once in a lifetime week on the Outbound segment of the Professional Fellows Program in Singapore.  I was hosted by fellow Mark Cheng, who partnered with the National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA) Council, a semi-governmental organization in Singapore that focuses on professional development of Singaporean youth, on the Outbound project.

Mark and I, in coordination with NYAA, designed and implemented 3 days of workshops, the “YSAELI Youth Social Enterprise Conference,” at Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education in March 2019.  Approximately 100 Singaporean students from all areas of Singaporean society attended the workshops.  We designed a structured social enterprise workshop to help aspiring or current young social entrepreneurs improve their professional development skills and create a network for attendees to learn from and support each other.ysaeli_greg-cooper-and-mark-cheng_0281.jpg

The program featured a variety of professionals who shared their stories of how they became successful to inspire the students to work hard to achieve their goals.  Local successful social entrepreneurs shared their expertise and stories on the positive impact of their social enterprises.  The speakers included a member of parliament, established social entrepreneurs, and professionals from Deloitte Consulting USA and Deloitte Consulting Singapore.  The workshops culminated in a competition where all of the attendees presented their ideas for potential funding by NYAA.  I participated as a judge along with other Deloitte USA professionals.

I had the unique opportunity to get to know students from different facets of Singaporean society and learn about their thoughts on Singapore’s educational system and how to address Singapore’s environmental issues.  They shared stories about their background and the ideas they had to improve Singapore.  Common themes were helping students with learning disabilities and providing more educational support to students from all socio-economic backgrounds.  We talked a lot on how they can be proactive about creating their social enterprise organization, including expanding their network, developing their ideas, creating a business plan, and marketing and pitching their ideas to potential investors.  The students pitched their ideas at the end of the workshops, using the information they gained during the workshops. I was impressed with the thought and range of ideas they in the areas of fashion, education, health, and the environment, and was pleased that the students sought my advice on their presentations.  Some of the students requested to be connected on LinkedIn after the workshops ended.  I truly felt like I had made long last connections.


Singapore wasn’t all work.  I also explored the famous hawker centers and tried new food and drinks such as sugar cane, chili crab, chicken rice, sting ray, fried carrot cake, and dim sum. I ate at a 1-star Michelin restaurant after waiting in a long line, and the wait was worth it.  I am a big coffee drinker and happily discovered Singapore’s delicious Kopi coffee culture.  I also visited many of Singapore’s famous sites.  I learned about Singapore’s history at the National Museum of Singapore, visited the luminous steel trees at Gardens by the Bay at night, and explored Little India and Chinatown.

The support given by NYAA and ITE was integral to the success of the workshops.  ITE, where most of the attendees study, provided an inviting conference space.  Through NYAA, I met Singaporean social entrepreneurs and government representatives who gave inspiring speeches to the attendees on how they came from humble backgrounds and through hard work and perseverance were able to make an impact on Singaporean society.  Mark Cheng and NYAA have formed a long-term partnership that will result in additional workshops to continue training and supporting Singapore’s future social entrepreneurs.  I would be honored to participate in future workshops if the opportunity arises.

I would like to thank the U.S. Department of State, American Councils for International Education, Deloitte Consulting USA, Deloitte Singapore, NYAA, the Institute of Technical Education, and Jaimie Holmes and Mauli Whitney from the American Councils for International Education for making this project successful.

YSEALI_Dept of State_Deloitte

Outbound Project Reflection: Rosemary Max and Thi Kim Chi Vu in Hanoi

written by Rosemary Max, Executive Director of Global Engagement, Oakland University 

I had the opportunity to go to Vietnam for two weeks on the Outbound segment of the Professional Fellows Program. I was in Hanoi and hosted by my colleague Kim Chi Vu Thi, a lecturer at Banking Academy. During this time I was able to offer three workshops to students on the US higher education system, on the school to work transition and entrepreneurship, and on professional writing.  I was also able to meet and discuss potential partnerships with faculty from Banking Academy and 6 other universities in Hanoi. The visit culminated in a business case competition in which I participated as a judge.  The visit was an amazing opportunity because it gave me a window into the university system, students and life in Vietnam.  Students in Vietnam, much like students in the US, are focused on and preoccupied by getting a foothold in the working world after graduation. We talked a lot about how to be proactive during one’s university career, ie to develop competencies, networks, and experiences in addition to their coursework.  I am sure that my university will develop partnerships with a few Vietnamese universities because of this opportunity.

VT Rosemary leading workshop

I also took the time to visit cultural sites and to learn more about my host country. I visited several museums, Ho Chi Minh’s tomb and museum, saw a performance of water puppetry, and I took a cooking class. One of my favorite things to do in Hanoi was to find a Cong Café and to sit and have a Coconut coffee drink. Probably the best cold coffee drink I have ever had. It is the perfect mix of sweetened condensed milk, coffee with an icy coconut topping and it manages not to be too sweet. Cong Café has a retro revolutionary feel to it. It is a chain of cafes started by a Vietnamese female entrepreneur. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my money—in support of this successful woman owned business.


Outbound Project Story: Mallory Tuttle and Sitta Marattanachai

written by Mallory Tuttle, Strome Entrepreneurial Center Program Manager at Old Dominion University

Norfolk –> Bangkok –> Chiang Mai –> Bangkok –> Trang –> Bangkok –> Norfolk

The final leg of this amazing experience is almost over and I continue to be amazed by the passion and drive of the people here. Every person I met during my stay here was an entrepreneur – every single person. Thailand truly lives by the motto “entrepreneurship is for everyone”. I came prepared to share everything I knew about entrepreneurship but I gained much more during my two weeks here.

During the final week of the outbound project I was able to go back to my roots and apply my education and experience in eco-tourism and hospitality and tourism management to entrepreneurship and innovation.

Sindy Marattanachai provided introductions to two unique social impact startups. We toured Once Again Hostel and met the team that is empowering locals and improving the community with every stay. We also met up with the CareerVisa Thailand team, discussed career development services innovations and toured their space at dtac Accelerate.

I met an awesome group of leaders from NIA : National Innovation Agency, Thailand and discussed the ODU Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and specifically the student entrepreneurs we work with at the ODU Strome Entrepreneurial Center. I learned more about the programs they offer including Startup Thailand and Founder Apprentice and hope to establish a more formal partnership for collaboration with the organization moving forward.

We hosted our final Young Founder Essentials Workshop in Trang at Suan Dusit University. Students learned about tourism trends and used design thinking to develop solutions to problems facing the tourism industry within their community. The student teams completed their social business model canvases, presented their business pitches and engaged in Q&A with the panel of judges. Their ideas ranged from enhanced tourism itinerary app development to AR/VR tourism experiences.

We wrapped up our trip with a visit to Bohin Farmstay, a local eco-tourism destination that provides authentic tourism experiences for southern Thailand. Due in part to their sea grass replenishment project the conversation status of the Dugong species decreased from endangered to vulnerable.

Thank you again to the U.S. Department of StateAmerican Councils for International EducationOld Dominion University, Sindy Marattanachai, Aom Kwanpirom Suksri, Jaimie At AmericanCouncils, Mauli At AmericanCouncils, and all of the other organizations, faculty/staff and volunteers who made this project possible.

I am looking forward to bringing back new ideas, thoughts and connections to ODU. I’m pretty certain this will go down in the history books as the longest commute I’ll ever have but it was totally worth it!

TH Mallory Tuttle and SittaTH Mallory TuttleTH Young Founders Essentials

Outbound Project in Manila: Ryan Lock and Rhiza Nery

written by Ryan Lock, Natural Hazards Unit Manager and Planning Section Chief, Florida Division of Emergency Management

As a state emergency management professional, I do not often have the chance to discuss disaster-related issues with international counterparts. As such, I was thrilled to be able to participate in the reciprocal component of the Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative Fellowship in the Philippines with the Philippines Disaster Resiliency Foundation. During this program, I was able to engage in the World Food Program’s Field Logistics Emergency Exercise where I was able to work alongside with professionals from the Philippines, Cambodia, the Red Cross, the United Nations, and others. Being able to see these partners in action coordinating an integrated international response was a unique experience. Afterwards, I was able to do site visits have discussions with multiple disaster partners. From these visits, I found that Florida and the Philippines share the same issues when it comes to emergency management. Despite this, we are working to resolve them in different ways, coming up with different solutions, and sometimes making the same mistakes. Opportunities such as this fellowship provide the venue for dialogue and the establishment of lasting sharing that otherwise would not exist. While The Philippines and Florida may never have to coordinate with each other during a disaster, the experiences, best-practices, and efforts of one are useful for the other. I am incredibly thankful for being able to participate in the program, and look forward to the continued sharing of information and ideas.

PH Rhiza and Ryan Lock

Outbound Project Highlight – Meeting the Deputy Minister of Education in Thailand

by Tanes Rianglaem, Fall ’18 YSEALI PFP Fellow from Thailand


General Surachet Chaiwong, Deputy Minister of Education, received a courtesy visit of Mr. Bradley Rickelman, U.S. Department of State exchange participant, endorsed through Professional Fellows Program, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Mr. Rickelman is on a mission to support a series of tailor-made trainings in “Advanced Entrepreneurial Education” for 51 vocational colleges nationwide and “Accelerating Tourism-based Enterprises” for 16 vocational colleges in Surat Thani, Phuket and Phang-nga.  These training are hosted under collaboration between Office of the Vocational Education Commission (OVEC) and U.S. Department of State Professional Fellows Program with primary objectives to strengthen management skills of OVEC incubator administrators and to promote creative networks among these administrators in different regions throughout the country. This reciprocal project is supported through Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), which builds the leadership capabilities of youth in the region and promotes cross-border cooperation to solve regional and global challenges.  Mr. Tanes Rianglaem from Office of the Vocational Education Commission was an active participant of YSEALI Professional Fellows Program in fall 2018.

TH Brad Rickelman meeting Dep. Minsiter of Education

A Valuable Reason to Travel: Furthering PFP Linkages

written by Kevin Moore from the United States

I’m a big believer in efficiency, and an even bigger believer in the Professional Fellows Program. Immediately following the productive and eye-opening experience of participating in Turkish PFP Fellow Asli Gemci’s outbound project on public participation in policymaking in Istanbul (as well as reconnecting with PFP alums Özge Sonmez and Ece Karakus while there), I embarked on personal travel to Tbilisi and Chisinau in follow-up with previous Fellows who I’ve had the pleasure of hosting.

Tamari Gvasso continues her work on criminal justice reform in Georgia. It was fascinating to learn more about her capacity at an NGO that advises policymakers. In addition, Tamari and I enjoyed catching up with Teona Surmava, another Oregon PFP alum who is a leading force for law enforcement modernization in her home country. Business aside, Tamari and Teona introduced me to culture, sights and cuisine of Georgia during my 5-day visit.


In Moldova, Mariana Buruiana now works for the civil society organization, East Europe Foundation. I really enjoyed learning about her work on youth empowerment. This was actually my fourth visit to Moldova, the first being for implementation of Mariana’s 2013 outbound project. Business aside, Mariana hosted me for a wonderful traditional barbecue at her home outside of Chisinau, then together with her husband and cousin, we road-tripped to Romania from where I ultimately flew home via Bucharest.

Having been home less than a week, I’m still processing this amazing journey that included meaningful engagements with six PFP alums, past and present. The Professional Fellows Program and American Councils truly facilitates cross-jurisdictional learning and understanding. I look forward to continued partnership.