The Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program Hosts its 2021 Debriefing Event In-Person

Washington, D.C. (August 30, 2021) – Cultural Vistas hosted our 2021 Muskie Interns for a two-day, in-person debriefing event.

As the 2021 Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program cycle comes to a close, we were delighted to welcome our 37 grant recipients from 12 member countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus regions. This is the program’s seventh year of operation. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the program aims to provide emerging leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan with professional work experience to compliment the graduate studies they are undertaking on through the Fulbright Foreign Student Program.

The Muskie class of 2021 poses for a picture outside of George Washington’s mansion in Mount Vernon, VA.

Since 1992, the U.S. Department of State has provided thousands of graduate school fellowships for students from across Eurasia in order to build democracies, strengthen the transition to market economies, and establish strong civil societies. Cultural Vistas has built upon that foundation by providing hands-on, professional skill-building opportunities across the United States for nearly 300 graduate students over the last seven years.

After an eventful summer of hands-on work and professional development experiences at various host companies across the United States, our 2021 Muskie Interns came together for one last event. The Muskie Program Team hosted this year’s in-person, final program debriefing event in Alexandria, Virginia and included a packed program agenda full of resources to help participants network, reflect, and transition back to life in their home countries.

Gunel Alasgarova, a 2021 participant from Azerbaijan studying education at Kent State University reflected on her experience in the program saying, “The Muskie Program gave me a new lens to look at American culture, diversity, and community. Both the in-person internship and the GCC [Global Competence Certificate] course were significant ways to level up my personal and professional development. The Muskie Debriefing Conference expanded my horizons even more by allowing me to make new acquaintances, experience tons of new emotions, and have small, but valuable, conversations. I gained new friends, ideas, links, and resources which will empower and inspire me as I move on to the next phase of my life. ”


Participants get to know one another through various collaborative sessions.


The first day of the event featured icebreakers for participants to get to know one another based on common interests, and sessions about ways to stay engaged after the Muskie Program, highlighting opportunities for this year’s cohort to connect through the robust Cultural Vistas and Muskie Program alumni network. Participants also gained useful insights about cultural reintegration to their home countries through a presentation by AFS Intercultural Programs and a panel with Muskie Program Alumni Council representatives Darya Levchenko (Ukraine), Eugeniu Rotari (Moldova), and Yulia Totskaya (Russia). After having the opportunity to share details with one another about their volunteer experiences, which are a core tenet of their time in program, the interns were invited on a tour of the historic George Washington Mansion in Mount Vernon, Virginia. For most of the participants, this was not only their first time in Virginia, but their first time exploring monuments of such cultural significance in the United States.

Silvia Chalkou is a participant from Moldova who got the opportunity to intern with Council Rock Inc. in Rochester, New York this summer. Silvia described her experience during the cultural tour and the debriefing event as, “a celebration of cultural diversity, professional excellence, and academic refinement.”

We ended day one of debriefing on a high note as our Muskies came together for a reception, featuring opening remarks from Dan Ewert, the Senior Vice President of Program Research and Development at Cultural Vistas who spoke on the legacy of the Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program and its growth over the last seven years.

Day two of debriefing was dedicated to program reflections and celebrating the impressive accomplishments of this year’s Muskie Interns who have much to be proud of. They’ve tackled the challenges of working within an international workplace, embracing life in a new community in the U.S., and of course, exceling within their internship roles.

We were joined by four Muskie Program alumni who spoke on this year’s alumni panel. Asmer Aliyeva, Elizaveta Belova, Muslima Maksudzoda, and Roman Ivasiy advised current participants on how to leverage the Muskie experience for future opportunities and transition into their next chapters after the program.

The members of this year’s alumni panel (left to right), Roman Ivasiy (Ukraine), Elizaveta Belova (Russia), Asmer Aliyeva (Azerbaijan), and Muslima Maksudzoda (Tajikistan) attended the event to provide valuable insight to current participants about leveraging their experience in the program.

As the Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program continues to seek ways to improve its programming and support for participants, we are always welcoming feedback from our Muskies. A key portion of the debriefing was dedicated to allowing Muskies to speak to their personal experiences as interns and collaborate with one another to highlight areas for program improvement. By identifying what worked well for them, and areas that potentially need to be improved, this year’s cohort came together to outline some vital areas of feedback for the program.

This year’s debriefing event concluded with participant presentations that were voted on ahead of time by fellow Muskie Interns. We heard engaging and informational sessions on varying topics like the stock market in the modern era and linguistics and memory. Our group farewell dinner gave everyone a last opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and to receive their program completion certificates as well as the famous Muskie scarf!

Oleksandra Chuprina (Ukraine) gives a presentation about the projects she worked on this summer during her internship at the Public Media Institute.

Many of our 2021 Muskies will return home to continue the impressive and inspiring work they are doing, but others will remain in the United States finishing their graduate studies or undertaking their next adventures in the U.S. work force. However, near or far, one thing remains true: Once a Muskie, always a Muskie! We can’t wait to see the amazing things they go on to accomplish.

The 2021 Muskie participants proudly hold up their program certificates as we welcome them as the newest members of the Muskie alumni network.

About the Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program

The Muskie Program has established meaningful connections between Americans and nearly 5,000 emerging Eurasian leaders over the last two-plus decades. Named after the late senator from Maine and preeminent U.S. environmental leader, the original academic program was established by Congress in 1992 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union to help ensure that countries in the region continued healthy economic and democratic growth. This new iteration of the Muskie program provides professional exchange opportunities for current Foreign Fulbright Scholars to continue promoting these goals, collaboration, and mutual understanding.

Take a peek at more of our favorite moments from the event.