Russia Direct selects the top 5 U.S.-Russia educational exchange programs based on interviews with program coordinators and alumni.


2014 offers many educational exchange programs for U.S. and Russian leaders. Source: PhotoXPress

At an event in Moscow in April 2013, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine raised the issue of public diplomacy, suggesting that educational exchanges between the U.S. and Russia could have a positive impact on bilateral relations in fields ranging from climate change to economics. And before that, Sonenshine’s predecessor Karen Hughes described educational programs as “the heart of public diplomacy.”

Given the importance of educational exchanges, Russia Direct selected the five best exchange programs for U.S.-Russia leaders, interviewing program coordinators and alumni of these programs to find out what made them distinctive. 

1. Fulbright


Photo: Fulbright / Press Photo

In 2013, the Fulbright educational program celebrated its 40th anniversary in Russia. This is one of the most popular programs among students, academics, researchers, teachers and other professionals who would like to improve U.S.-Russia bilateral relations in different fields.

Annually, it sends about 140 Russians to the U.S. and about 70 American scholars, professors, and graduate students to Russia in all academic fields with the exception of business administration.According to Fulbright Director Joel Ericson, the program has seen a big boost in momentum and now has about 1,800 Russians who have been participants of the exchange and are now alumni.

 “The program was meant to support Russians who were interested in participating in the program in the fields of social sciences and the humanities,” he told Russia Direct in an interview in September 2013. And now, for about 10 years, the program has enlarged to include other areas of study including hard sciences, physics, chemistry and other academic areas where Russians have always been strong.”

Who can apply: Russian and American students, academics, teachers and other professionals

Deadline: To be announced. To find out more details, visit the Fulbright website.    

Fulbright programs:

For Russian citizens:  Fulbright Graduate Students Program, The Fulbright Faculty Development Program (FFDP), Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program, Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program (FLTA), Fulbright Program for Russian Education Administrators, Fulbright-Kennan Program

For American citizens:  English Teaching Assistance (ETA), Core Fulbright Scholar Program, Fulbright Specialist Program. 

2. EURECA: U.S.-Russia Innovation Corridor


Researchers and students who seek to work on joint projects to commercialize their ideas and then apply them in practice may be interested in the Enhancing University Research and Entrepreneurial Capacity Program (EURECA), administered by the American Councils for International Education.   

“[It] is a pilot program, designed to engage Russian and American research universities in a new way, not merely through student and faculty mobility, but through longer-term engagement in research projects capable of helping regional economic developments, both in Russia and in the U.S.,”  President of American Council for International Education Dan Davidson told Russia Direct in an interview in July.

The core idea of the EURECA program is to bring together leading Russian and U.S. research universities to expand their opportunities in applied research in fields such as technology, business and innovation. EURECA collaborate with Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science in accordance with its national education strategy and federal programs supporting national research universities, and is funded by the U.S. Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law (USRF).

The EURECA 1 pilot program was launched in 2010-12 and brought together a network of Russian and American universities, while EURECA 2 – U.S.-Russia Innovation Corridor (USRIC) – will involve researchers and students in joint projects in 2013-2017.

 “We are conducting two initiatives within EURECA and the U.S.-Russia Innovation Corridor at American Councils,” clarifies Program Manager Adrian Erlinger. “One is building regional university-to-university relationships, and the second is opening participation in USRIC to individual university-based startups and entrepreneurs.”

According to Davidson, these corridors are not just about universities. “They are about regional economies, with regional governments in Russia matched with an American region that has strengths in similar fields,” he said pointing out they look like twin regions.

The focus of the first corridor is biomedical. “It’s between Maryland, which is a major U.S. center for very high-end biomedical research, and Nizhny Novgorod, which is one of the leaders in genome-based, precision medicine which is diagnostic and can provide non-invasive treatments for diseases like cancer,” Davidson says.


In December 2013, American Councils announced the opening of the winter 2014 application season for the US-Russia Innovation Corridor (EURECA 2). Erlinger points out that the program offers navigational services to young university-based startups or projects by providing them key information on the U.S. market for their idea.

“This can be done virtually working over email and Skype to “test” their ideas for little cost to them, or they may choose to take advantage of the University of Maryland’s International Incubator to establish a business in the United States,” he clarifies.

When asked about criteria for the best candidates, he said that in the selection process,  the program looks for “clear business ideas with commercial potential” and those who can demonstrate “open communications and potential to benefit U.S.-Russia commercial ties” as well as advance their university or the growth of entrepreneurship in Russia.

“A majority of the applications are in the IT, energy, biotech, or industrial (e.g. nanotechnology) sectors, but we welcome from any sector,” Erlinger told Russia Direct. “Applicants do not need a prototype or a patent, but that shows that their idea is on the road to market. Just as important, we also look for applicants who are ready to work and learn with U.S. partners. Active communication and enthusiasm means that a project is likely to want to further engage with U.S. partners and will be successful.”

Who can apply: Students, university spinoff companies, university-based startups, innovators and entrepreneurs

Deadline: January 15, 2014. Visit the website to apply and find out additional details.

3. Alfa Fellowship Program


The Alfa Fellowship Program gives opportunities for young professionals from the U.S. and U.K. to live  and work in Russia and develop an expertise through professional assignments. With the program still expanding, “a new generation of American and British leaders is being exposed to Russian professional life and society.”

The Program is funded by Alfa Bank, and is administered in the U.S. and U.K. by Cultural Vistas and in Moscow by the Fund for International Fellowships and Cultural Dialogue.

“I am confident the Alfa Fellowship program will have a tremendous impact on both my professional and personal development,” said Zach Witlin, a 2013-2014 Alfa Fellow who spent his program year in the Moscow office of the Cargill company. “It provided me an opportunity to gain experience with a major international organization in Moscow, enhancing my career skills and my understanding of business in Russia, and it did so in a way that made a long-term transition to life in Moscow very comfortable.”

When asked about the reason why he applied, he said he wanted to become an expert on Russia and Eurasia. “The Alfa Fellowship proved an ideal way to move in that direction,” he said. “Summer language training and lectures with the Higher School of Economics proved to be a great asset as well, both for living here and for better understanding Russian politics and economics.”

Witlin highlights that the program seeks young professionals with a long-term interest in Russia who will not only use their experience to find new professional ties with their home country, but also who “will carry the empathy and friendships they gain while here.”

Who can apply: U.S. or U.K. citizen between the ages of 25 and 35 with a graduate degree and at least two years of professional experience in business, journalism, public policy or other fields.

Deadline: To be announced. For updates visit the website.

4. IREX Global UGRAD


One of the most interesting and effective programs that improves U.S.-Russia relations is the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD) administered by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX).

Established by Congress in 1992 under the Freedom Support Act, it brings together Russia’s undergraduate students from Russian universities and gives them an opportunity to discover the U.S., experience American lifestyle and culture and feel how to be a true American. The program focuses on training leadership and professional skills as well as provides an opportunity to study in an American university under non-degree programs during one academic year.

“Though freedom of movement and information have greatly increased, Americans and citizens of the former Soviet Union still lack opportunities to interact and have substantive dialogue,” according to IREX. “Through academic studies, community service, and internships, Global UGRAD students come into close contact with Americans and develop lasting relationships with U.S. universities, schools, businesses, and community organizations.”

“Global UGRAD served as a great boost for my studies, volunteer projects and career opportunities,” said Artem Avtandilov, a 2010-2011 alumnus of the program. “It helped me get a highly qualified job in the telecommunications field after I returned back to Russia by extending my resume and Computer Engineering skills that I studied in the United States.”

“Furthermore, I was able to extend my social life by getting involved in volunteer projects with Vladimir Potanin's Charity Fund with new ideas that I brought back from the States. And finally, my international experience allowed me to get into a European Master's program, Erasmus Mundus [European Master's in Embedded Computing Systems (EMCS)].”

Who can apply: Undergraduate students

Deadline: To be announced. For more information visit the website

5. U.S.-Russia Young Journalist Exchange Program


The U.S.-Russia Young Journalist Exchange program is an endeavor of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) Sub-Working Group on Mass Media. Every year it brings together 12 Russian and 12 American young journalists who are embedded with local mass media organizations throughout Russia and the United States, respectively.

In 2013 Russian participants worked at U.S. newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, The Denver Post, Wisconsin State Journal and Florida Times-Union. Meanwhile, their U.S. counterparts had internship in Russian media organizations such as Echo of Moscow, Russia Beyond The Headlines (RBTH), ITAR-TASS and other media outlets and news agencies.  

This is the second Young Journalist Exchange and is sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in coordination with the Moscow Union of Journalists and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) that selected candidates – media outlets and journalists based on their professionalism, achievements and experience.   

“One of the major goals of the exchange program for me was to learn more about the management, workflow, software and hardware tools, principles of work and ways of monetization of the American media company,” said Vsevolod Pulya, Managing Editor of Russia Beyond The Headlines, an international media outlet based in Moscow. “I also improved my own skills of storytelling and collecting information.”

Who can apply: Russian and American representatives of media organizations.

Deadline: To be announced. For updates visit the website.


Advice for applicants to U.S.-Russia exchange programs

Carter Johnson, director of the American Councils for International Education in Russia:

“American Councils looks for highly motivated individuals who have an intense interest in learning more about another culture while simultaneously demonstrating the maturity and flexibility that will enable them to successfully adapt in a foreign environment. Living, studying, and working in another country can be incredibly enriching and exciting, but it is also a challenging experience that requires patience, stamina, and determination. American Councils looks for Russians and Americans that will thrive in these new environments.

The best advice we can provide to an applicant is to give careful consideration to each program's goals and identify those that fit well with the applicant's own personal goals. When the goals overlap, the application will be immeasurably stronger because it enables the applicant to clearly and honestly express themselves throughout the process, in writing and during interviews.

When applicants try to be someone they are not, the selection committee senses this, and it typically harms the applicant's chances. Of course another great piece of advice is to always start applications early – applications almost always take longer than we expect, and the questions often require a great deal of personal reflection, which should never be rushed.”

U.S.-Russia educational programs not included in the list but also recommended as alternative options for future leaders and those interested in U.S.-Russia relations: U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program, Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum (SURF), The Hubert H. Humphrey Program

Only for Russian citizens: FLEX high school exchange program, Professional Fellows Program (PFP), Opportunity program

Only for American citizens: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP), The Critical Languages Scholarship (CLS), NSLI-Y Program, Russian Language Program for Heritage Speakers (RLPHS), Russian Overseas Flagship Program, Summer Russian Language Teachers Program, The Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP)