As Foreign Relations officer of a local government, I attended the World Learning Visitor Exchange program entitled “State and Local Government with the support of the U.S. Embassy from September 7-24, 2010 in the U.S. This program offered me a great opportunity to get familiar with American culture, history and gain clear understanding of divisions of power between the states and local governments, and understand how both relate to a federal governmental system which has its own powers under the constitution. During my program, I visited several states such as Washington DC, Florida, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, California.
Totally 8 visitors from 6 different Asian countries participated in the World Learners Visitors Program. Although, our main goal was to explore how state and local governments function in the U.S, how they interact with the federal
government, and how local elections are organized, we had a lot to learn from each other’s experience as we all work for the local and state governments in our home countries. During this meeting I offered a small souvenir of Mongolian hand crafted felt chess board to the Mayor.He was very happy with this traditional Mongolian souvenir and on the next day the local newspaper reported about this meeting and my photo of presenting this gift to the Mayor was on the front page of the newspaper.
In my opinion New Mexico had the most similar culture and tradition to Mongolia. When we visited Native American Pueblos, I realized that they have very similar history and heritage to nomadic Mongolian culture. Another interesting thing I noticed there was the function of the State Representatives. They don't get paid and they get elected as the State representative from the local residents and work as volunteers. It was interesting for me to understand the motivations that prompt these people work as volunteers to represent the State.
Finally, I had wonderful opportunity to find out how San Francisco Government created clean streets, recycling and waste management system, and their financial independence. In order to learn more about their success, I have met with the General Manager of San Francisco and exchanged ideas on how we may create the same comfortable environment in our Ulaanbaatar city. This opportunity enabled me to learn and develop many important ideas that we can bring into our local government system such as open government, public participation, public and private partnership. My experience from this program will have a positive and continuing effect on my future activities in the local government level.
In Washington we discussed about U.S. federalism, the election process, transparency in government, and Washington DC congressional offices. Also, we had a great tour among the institutions and historical places in Washington DC. Another experience in Washington that was new but very memorable to me was volunteering to feed homeless in Washington. It was my first time to volunteer at such a place and the experience gave me a wonderfully rewarding feeling that I did not expect. It allowed me to see there is no such thing as “small help” when volunteering.
The second part of our program was held in Orlando, Florida and the main topic was local elections/city/country and state relations, and local issues which were particularly interesting to me. I had numerous questions about public transportation and disaster preparedness which are all very important issues to Ulaanbaatar. During the weekend we stayed in New York, and we spent a memorable time at “Time Square” and fantastic Broadway show. After the weekend we traveled to Freeport, Illinois, This small community held a major attraction for me and I had many questions about local legislations and city service. We met with Mayor George Gaulrapp and I proposed to him to establish further cooperation between one of the districts of Ulaanbaatar city and Freeport. Because, they have created an excellent and very effective system of encouraging and managing “city farming”, and the Mayor responded very positively to my request.
JANCHIV Barsuren, Specialist
Foreign Relations and Cooperation Department of
the Mayor's Office of Ulaanbaatar city