They arrived in the midst of the government shutdown, which although chaotic and unusual, was a great learning experience: it was valuable for fellows to see not just how the country functions, but how it deals with adversity. Twelve young professionals from Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya arrived to participate in Legacy’s Legislative Fellows Program-North Africa, sponsored by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  They joined millions of Americans who waited anxiously for shutdown news, as some of their fellowship placements were in jeopardy. Fortunately, all have found their way to interesting placements despite some last minute changes.

Legacy’s partner in implementing the program, the US Association of Former Members of Congress, arranged for several former representatives to share their experience and wisdom with the fellows. A roundtable discussion with former members of Congress Larry LaRocco, Jim Slattery, Jim Kolbe, Ron Sarasin, Beverly Byron, and Phil English (see bios here) provided a great insiders’ view on partisan politics in Washington. The former members’ lamenting the increasing polarization was especially moving for fellows, and the need for discourse emerged as an important theme in both the American and the North African contexts. The fellows aspire to be champions of productive dialogue, effective government, and a vibrant civil society when they return home.

With the shutdown forming an ominous backdrop, the week was jam-packed with orientation and training, but the fellows adapted quickly and are soaking it all in. These young leaders from Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are inspired to make change and translate that energy into practical action. (Read more… on this post by Eva Teshima Hicks)