Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Meeting of Representatives and Supporters of International Youth Exchange Programs

May 24, 1982

Well, I'm delighted that so many of you were able to be here today. And welcome to the White House.

Behind the headlines of today, steadily chipping away at the obstacles to peace, is another and less sensational dimension to foreign affairs. It is the network of human relations between our country and other nations around the globe. This network is more than government-to-government relations, tourism, or commerce. It also has been built on the experiences of young people who've lived with families and attended schools or universities in other countries.

I am convinced that one of the best ways to develop more accurate perspectives on other nations and on ourselves is for more Americans to join, for a time, a family and a community in another land. And we can't hope that other nations will appreciate our country unless more of their future leaders have had the same chance to feel the warmth of the American family, the vitality of an American community, the diversity of our educational system.

Now, sometimes I must admit that last part there has given me some problems. When I was Governor, I used to welcome every year those students who were in California from other lands. And I always had one question. I would ask them, "Tell me, now that you have been here and going to our school, is it easier or harder than school in your own country?" And then I'd wait 2 or 3 minutes for the laughter to stop, which answered the question. [Laughter] They found it somewhat easier. But then, maybe we warmed their hearts a little bit with that, too.

But there's a flickering spark in us all which, if struck at just the right age, I think, can light the rest of our lives, elevating our ideals, deepening our tolerance, and sharpening our appetite for knowledge about the rest of the world. Education and cultural exchanges, especially among our young, provide a perfect opportunity for this precious spark to grow, making us more sensitive and wiser international citizens through our careers.

Twenty-two years ago, President Eisenhower, father of the People-to-People program, as you know, said that "The beginning point of all cooperation between individuals, between groups, within a single society, or between nations is genuine, human understanding." Well, never have we needed this vital ingredient to peace more than in today's world.

Since World War II, the United States has developed many excellent programs for students, scholars, youth, farm, and labor groups. They depend on the cooperation of thousands of American families and hundreds of schools, universities, and volunteer community organizations. And many of these are represented here today. Still, the total number of young people sponsored by our government is relatively small, especially when compared to sponsored programs of the Soviet Union or even of our allies, West Germany and France.

Early next month I'll go to Versailles to meet with our six major allies. Among both their young people and ours, there's perhaps less appreciation of the values we share than there was 20 or 30 years ago. The successor generations didn't experience our remarkable postwar cooperation and are less familiar with the ideals which motivated America then and which motivate us now. I believe that today we have a great opportunity to form new bonds through expanded exchanges among our youth, from all sections of our society. If we're to succeed, if we're to build human bridges across the seas and into the future as an investment for peace, we'll need more private support and cooperation than ever before.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I invited you here today—to forge with me a new kind of cooperation between government and the private sector, between profit and nonprofit organizations, between families across our land and those abroad in an exciting exchange of our young people.

Based on an expanded American program, I plan to discuss with our allies at Versailles greater emphasis on these programs by all our countries. An ancient Chinese proverb says, "If you tell a man, he will forget. If you show a man, he may remember. But if you involve him, he will understand." I hope we can make a beginning by involving all of you and wonderful families like the Frys and the Gozays here, who are with us today, in a vast network providing home-stay experience and other support for thousands of young people from abroad over the years to come. To make it work, our corporations, foundations, and voluntary organizations across the land will need to take the lead.

I plan to form a Presidential committee to advise me and to help Charlie Wick, who is my personal representative for this effort, help them find ways to stimulate greater private involvement across the country. I hope that today's meeting will open a new chapter in our efforts to build the broadest possible base for peace. I look forward to hearing—or receiving a report from Charlie on the results of this meeting and the follow-up work. You have my strong support, my sincere best wishes in this new endeavor.

And now at a terrible risk—because I know that I'm getting a reputation for telling anecdotes— [laughter] —I'm going to tell one. I don't know why I just happened to think of this—here today and thinking of the young people in the exchange and what our young people could do for us. It goes back to just after World War II, and I was in England. And you think about these kids of ours being over there and the rest of the world being exposed to them.

I was out in the countryside on a weekend, and I wanted to see one of the fabulous-it was my first trip to England, right after the war, and I wanted to see one of the fabulous ancient pubs. And the driver that was driving us apologized when he stopped at one that was only 400 years old. [Laughter] He hadn't been able to find a really old one yet.

We went in, and it was a morn-and-pop operation and—you know, the old gentleman there at the bar, and a matronly woman, she came and took our order. And after hearing us for a few seconds, in our talking, she says, "You're Americans, aren't you?" And I allowed as how we were. And she said, "Oh, there were a lot of your chaps staged just down the road during the war." And she said, "They used to come in here, and they'd hold songfests." And she said, "They called me 'Mom,' and they called the old man there 'Pop.'" And she said, "It was Christmas Eve"—and by this time she's not looking at us anymore; she's kind of looking off into the distance, and her eyes are beginning to fill up. And she said, "It was Christmas Eve, and we were in here all alone." And she said, "The door opened, and in they came. And they had presents, Christmas presents for me and Pop." And then she said—by this time the tears were rolling a little bit—she said, "Big strappin' lads, they was, from a place called Ioway." [Laughter]

Well, right then I fell in love all over again with "those big strappin' lads from Ioway" and from wherever in America. And you think about them, over there. I think they'd do a lot more than a lot of public relations programs to correct false impressions about the United States.

So, again, thank you all for being here. And, Charlie, you tell me all about it. I have to leave.

Note: The President spoke at 1:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. Charles Z. Wick, Director of the International Communication Agency, also spoke at the meeting.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Meeting of Representatives and Supporters of International Youth Exchange Programs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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