Andrei Derekh of Minsk, Belarus, accompanied Marty Pauken and his family out to breakfast on Sunday for Father's Day.
"He's a wonderful young man," Mr. Pauken said.
Mr. Derekh, 38, is director of JSC "Investment Company UNITER," a private organization in Belarus that supervises investments, develops business plans, and consults on investments.
Also a member of the Minsk Capital Businessman Union, he is one of Belarus' best and brightest professionals in the business field.
He and nine other professionals have come from Belarus to northwest Ohio for three weeks to learn firsthand about local economic development in the United States.
The professionals will participate in seminars, panel discussions, and site visits to share information and ideas about self-governance and collaboration between public, private, and nongovernmental sectors to promote local development, all while living with area host families to create cross-cultural dialogue as well.
Monday included discussions with Lucas County Administrator Michael Beazley and state Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo).
During the next three weeks, the professionals will meet with officials of WSOS Community Action Commission; Tom Blaha, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission; J.C. Wallace, executive director of the Ohio Economic Development Association; Randall Hunt, state director of rural development; David Berger, mayor of Lima, Ohio; Timothy Wagener, mayor of Maumee, and Robert Sawyer, regional director of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Many of the professionals already have U.S. public and private sector contacts.
Aliaksandr Kustou, the director of a private company that specializes in household appliances, construction materials, furniture, and jewelry, has worked with the American Embassy to renovate a military hospital for World War II veterans for five years.
Taisiya Yeletskikh, an associate professor in the department of economics at the Belarusian State University of Informatics, hopes to make contacts with universities while in the United States to explore the possibility of exchange programs.
During the panels and discussions, she said she would like to learn as much as possible about the government policies for local and state development, investment opportunities and strategies, the development of entrepreneurship, and local self-government.
The Great Lakes Consortium, an organization founded as a cooperative effort by Bowling Green State University, the University of Toledo, Lourdes College, and WSOS to coordinate international training and development efforts, is organizing the program.
Called Community Connections, the program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and administered by World Learning.
Despite the packed official itinerary, the professionals will be able to spend time getting to know their host families. To Mr. Derekh, that is the best way to understand the true mentality of a country.
Mr. Pauken still corresponds with a Tanzanian architect he once hosted in the Community Connections program, and he said what strikes him the most about the two men he has hosted are the similarities between him and them, and not the differences.
"In newspapers, you only hear about the governments," he said.
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