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Education Programs in Romania: The Service of Public Diplomacy

A primary purpose of public diplomacy is to promote the interests of the United States. Public diplomacy officers on the frontlines of diplomacy represent the public face of U.S. embassies, often communicating and building cultural relations with people in the host country from all walks of life. One way they engage foreign audiences is through education programs.

Mark Tauber | Deputy Oral Historian
Mark Tauber | Deputy Oral Historian

Education programs help establish exchanges between students and people of different cultures, which then become relationship builders. This is the domain and responsibility of cultural affairs officers: to build relationships between the embassy and the local community through different programs.

Mark Tauber served as Cultural Affairs Officer at the United States Embassy in Bucharest, Romania from 2002 to 2005. While he was in Romanina, he represented the embassy on the local Fulbright Commission, which selected “local scholars for one-year study programs in the U.S.” These programs offer opportunities in research, graduate studies, and English teaching. In addition to selecting future scholars, Mark would assist the American Fulbrighters when they arrived in the country for their year-long residency “with orientation and enrichment programs.” Managing this program was itself a full-time job, which Mark relished, and it contributed to making his tour in Romania one of his best professional experiences.

As a public diplomacy officer, Mark Tauber also used another innovative programming platform—American Corners. The American Corners were initially libraries established after the fall of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe to directly serve the local community in promoting American culture. Mark played a pivotal role in creating and using these spaces for educational and cultural programming that made important inroads into host country society. According to Mark, they offered an environment of well “trained staff, and modern technologies necessary to connect with Romanians, in person and virtually, in support of the U.S. Government policies and for a better understanding of the U.S. history and cultural values.” Mark Tauber helped the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest grow these programs, leaving in 2005 after establishing nine new American Corners throughout Romania.

Mark Tauber had a unique career path in the Foreign Service, starting as a political officer before specializing in public diplomacy. In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that this transition allowed him to work closely with host country nationals and American visitors. To learn more about public diplomacy, and how it works with global programs such as Fulbright and American Corners, please read Mark Tauber’s interview with ADST.

Mark Tauber’s interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy and John Collinge on January 5, 2016

Drafted by Derek Gutierrez

ADST relies on the generous support of our members and readers like you. Please support our efforts to continue capturing, preserving, and sharing the experiences of America’s diplomats.

Read Mark Tauber’s full oral history HERE.
Read more about the Public Diplomacy track HERE.
Read more about American Corners (Spaces) HERE.
Read more about the American Corners in Romania HERE.
Read more about Fulbright HERE.

Excerpts:

“I represented the embassy on the local Fulbright Commission that selected local scholars for one-year study programs in the U.S.”

           
10th Anniversary Of American Corner Cluj-Napoca
10th Anniversary Of American Corner Cluj-Napoca

Introducing Education programs in Romania:
Q: And what were your specific responsibilities?

TAUBER: As cultural officer I had several basic duties: …

● Use Education Exchanges to Benefit Both Countries. I represented the embassy on the local Fulbright Commission that selected local scholars for one-year study programs in the U.S. We also helped American Fulbrighters during their one-year residency in Romania with orientation and enrichment programs, and helped them get through the local bureaucracy when they hit roadblocks. I also managed the embassy’s deliberations on short-term visitor programs to the U.S. A short-term program was usually a 2-3 week whirlwind tour related to an embassy goal like: training in how to detect and prosecute financial crimes—especially transnational money laundering; fighting terrorism and organized crime; and promoting transparency in government operations; etc.

● Grow American Corners. This was an innovation that began in the former Soviet Union. U.S. embassies and consulates received funds to work with local libraries to increase their holdings of U.S. books and print materials as well as web access to U.S.-based search engines. American Corners would grow to become mini cultural centers that we used for programming events and as stops for the ambassador to meet with local officials and citizens in areas that were not previously included on a VIP travel schedule.

“It was one of my most exciting jobs and contributed to making Romania one of my best professional experiences.”

Tauber’s experience with Fulbright:
TAUBER: The flagship of U.S. people-to-people exchanges is the Fulbright Program, named for the U.S. Senator who pushed its creation in the 1960s. The program provides significant U.S. government funding for American students at the Masters and Ph.D. level to spend a year teaching and researching in foreign countries. Foreign countries that agree to take part in the exchange also have to contribute funds to support the exchange. The exact amount of funding and in-kind contributions from each side differs from country to country. What is the same throughout the world is the governing body. A non-profit Fulbright Commission is formally incorporated in each participating country to advertise the number of exchange slots, accept applications, choose the list of funded participants, and work to increase the budget with private contributions, or with increases in host government funding…

When I arrived in 2002 we were approaching the end of the current Executive Director’s tenure. There had been significant friction between him and other members of the Commission and a decision was taken not to renew his contract. So one of my first duties was to help the Commission advertise for a new Chairman and organize the 100-some applications in rank order. Each application was about 20 pages long, and each one had to be reviewed carefully. I worked through the summer of 2003 with an American college intern in my section to get this herculean task done. The intern, a political science major, developed a spreadsheet with the all the candidates and criteria for hiring. We assigned a score to each criterion and then tried weighting various criteria to see if the same candidates were more or less at the top…

Although we could not convince private, wealthy Romanians of the value of investing in their scholars, we did choose high quality, highly motivated Romanians who invariably impressed their American host institutions. This helped get them invitations to stay a second year funded by their American university hosts. This, in turn, won my Fulbright team a good reputation in the Department’s office of Fulbright exchanges. Our reputation was so good, in fact, that when slots for additional scholars suddenly opened up in the region we could quickly fill them with Romanian candidates from our alternate list. During my three years in Romania, I reckon we sent about 60 Romanians to the U.S. under the Fulbright program. It was one of my most exciting jobs and contributed to making Romania one of my best professional experiences.

“We worked with many Romanian universities, municipal authorities, and art house managers to plan openings for the film.”

           
Fullbright Program | Romania
Fullbright Program | Romania

Project two in Romania:
TAUBER: The second project was even more extraordinary. Well into my tour I met a U.S. postgraduate student who was working on a project under the auspices of a Fulbright grant. She was connecting with a number of Roma communities to document their stories of Holocaust survival. Her goal was two-fold: to educate a new generation of Romanians largely unaware of this WWII atrocity and to help the Roma apply for reparation funds under a German government program that makes payments to Holocaust survivors. It took many months of careful and respectful work by the Fulbrighter to win the trust of the Roma survivors. They were still suspicious of the motives of any authority, afraid that if they came forward with their stories—which included descriptions of how some Romanians colluded with Nazis to eliminate the gypsies—they would be targeted for harassment or worse.

Eventually several Roma did apply for reparations with the help of the film maker. The documentary relates their stories and their eventual victories in receiving small survivor funds—no more than $1,000 each. But the victory also gave them and their families a reason to believe that there is genuine interest on the part of Romanians in helping Roma integrate into post-communist Romanian society while respecting their culture. My job in the cultural section, once I acquainted myself with this work, was to get money from our embassy’s democracy fund to help the filmmaker take her documentary to schools and movie theaters around the country. This was an easy sell because of the obvious quality of the documentary and the expertise of the Fulbright grantee. I can’t remember how many cities she toured with her documentary, but we worked with many Romanian universities, municipal authorities, and art house managers to plan openings for the film. They all included a talk and Q&A with our Fulbrighter.

“By the time I left in 2005, we had established nine American Corners…”

Tauber’s experience with American Corners:
TAUBER: With the integration of USIA [U.S. Information Agency] into the State Department beginning in 2000, management decided that the large U.S. cultural centers and libraries that had defined American cultural presence abroad for some 50 years were no longer needed. Instead, a smaller version of American cultural presence was established in most countries where we have an embassy. This presence became known as American Corners. Here is the brief description of the Corners today: [American Corners offer] … authoritative and up-to-date information about the U.S. via print and electronic resources, the American Corners organize cultural, educational, and English language learning interactive programs. The American Corners offer a welcoming and inspiring environment, trained staff, and modern technologies necessary to connect with Romanians, in person and virtually, in support of the U.S. Government policies and for a better understanding of the U.S. history and cultural values. (from the U.S. Embassy Bucharest website)

The concept originated in post-communist Russia. The idea was to find existing Russian libraries or cultural centers and make a deal with them: We give you U.S. books and materials, desktop computers, and free access to U.S. search engines; you give us a part time librarian to manage the resources and access to your venue for our traveling performers. The value to our partners was that the material and equipment we provided created a new demand among students and the general public—increasing the library’s support base. As the Corners grew in popularity, we attracted larger crowds and more media to our events, even in far-flung provincial cities. In essence, we reestablished the large cultural centers on an as-needed basis. We could program everything from American jazz ensembles to town hall meetings with the ambassador. The key was finding agreeable partner institutions. The search for Romanian partners for our American Corners was largely a job for my local staff. They knew the country and could best assess how well a venue could offer consistent support. We were lucky in that our search took place in a welcoming environment. During my tour—2002–2005—Romania was still preparing for NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and EU membership. This was a golden hour for a cultural affairs officer because many in the Romanian education and cultural communities were prepared to come forward and cooperate with us in the expectation that such agreements would help lock Romania into Western alliances and help their own careers with access to friendly officers at the U.S. embassy.

By the time I left in 2005, we had established nine American Corners in the following cities: Bacau, Baia Mare, Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Craiova, Iasi, Timișoara, and Targu Mures. Nearly all were in provincial libraries that had large auditoriums we could use for free. We pushed out every U.S. expert speaker we could find to fill those performance halls as well as consular officers who conducted town halls on visa services. Among the cultural activities we sent were modern dance and movement classes for high school and university students and an array of art instructors. The modern dance classes were particularly popular as Romanian youth were eager to learn break dancing and every kind of acrobatic and athletic body movement style. Until then their instructors had limited them to traditional ballet. Ultimately, we had so many American Corners that my local staff started to get jealous of the one Romanian I had hired and put in charge of the whole program . . . .

TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS

Education
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service 1977–1981
Georgetown University Master’s Program in Foreign Service 1982–1984
MA in National Resource Strategy, Industrial College of the Armed Forces 2008–2009
Joined the Foreign Service 1984
Yerevan Armenia—Chief of Political/Economic Section 1999–2001
Bucharest, Romania—Cultural Officer 2002–2005
Budapest, Hungary—Cultural Affairs Officer 2005–2008