Kelly Hook discusses her experiences traveling to Russia along with fifteen other student body presidents. She describes the goals of her trip abroad and how she helped co-found a non-profit organization upon her return to help further benefit/explore US-Russian relations.
Russia, [Laughs] that was a unique opportunity.
I'm so glad I had that opportunity to go to Russia.
You know those emails that you see nowadays that come over and they're like kind of jumbled up and they say, hey, can you wire me some money, I'm stuck-.
I mean that's kind of the email that I got that said you've been selected to travel to Moscow, Russia and represent the United States.
It kind of looked like that. It wasn't very official and I was like, this is a weird scam message
but the only reason that I didn't dismiss it is because Matt Peterson, our university lobbyist,
he also sent me a side email and said, "Just so you know, I submitted your name to the Congress in DC
as a good leader on our campus and as a potential candidate for this US-Russia relations movement that we're doing."
I learned later that the idea is that Russia and the United States has a Cold War plague around us.
Generations that lived through the Cold War are now the ones educating students
and they are the ones making decisions,
and there is a movement going on that started with Obama, US-Russia relations as well as leadership in Russia,
to try to get the future generations to overcome those ingrained stereotypes.
So in a nutshell that's what this trip was about,
and we got to go over there, the fifteen of us-all paid for by Russia, so a little bit of bias there,
Russia's paying-but we go over there and we're shown the good life and the bad life of Russia
and we are meeting with people who are extremely high up in the government.
I would never get meetings similar here in a million years, not even close.
It was a huge opportunity for us.
We didn't even really know what we were doing there until we got there
and we were handed basically this itinerary and when we saw who we were meeting with, which we did not know about before going over there, we were shocked.
We had these frank discussions with Russian leaders and Russian CEOs
about the future of Russia and they saw us as the upcoming leaders of America,
probably because of some search that showed Bill Clinton or a few other people had been student body presidents,
so they saw us as these leaders and they wanted us to believe in Russia as a potential partner
and one day possibly invest in Russia with a business, with an idea, with a partnership, you name it.
On our side we wanted to-.
I mean we wanted to meet students, and we did when we went over there,
and then from that experience we really wanted to bridge that gap ourselves.
I mean I knew nothing about Russia going over there
and I came back wanting to better the relationships because we met with students that were in schools over there,
spoke great English. We went out with them and had some drinks and some dinner
and the rapport that we had was amazing
I virtually had no opinion but kind of a negative feeling going to Russia and I came back with a little bit of skepticism still,
of course, but with the desire to see it change.
I ended up being selected to go back, just me and three others from that trip,
to go to St. Petersburg just two months later for a Russian economic forum,
I am excited to continue building on that relationship.
I've actually been a cofounder of an organization called CAREEL [The Center for American-Russian Engagement of Emerging Leaders], C-A-R-E-E-L, at CAREEL.org.
It's now a 501c3 nonprofit
and it works on developing exchange programs on not just Russia's side but US sides
and keeping the communication going, now having students that are not just student body presidents
but students in engineering, sciences, all of those things, I mean just to open up your mind to these experiences
and meet these Russian youths who are awesome and every bit as similar to us as we are to them.
We want to facilitate that, so CAREEL has started mainly from a guy named Richard and another guy named Cooper,
they're the main ones, but twelve other of us from that fifteen[-person] trip have cofounded that organization,
and it's been an interesting ride and I look forward to
being involved in Russia politics in the future, which is a crazy thing. I never would have thought that would happen.