Friday, May 28, 2010

Soapbox Derby Revisited

Last week I hopped up on my high horse to tell U.S. public diplomacy professionals how the job should be done, and I'd like to continue in that vein today (again, lifting liberally from my Public Diplomacy final exam).

Public diplomacy success relies on strong cross-cultural communication. To that end, I believe the United States should increase efforts to engage with diasporic populations. According to the U.S. Census the 2007 U.S. population included 38.1 million foreign born—more than 12 percent of the total population.

These residents communicate with family and friends abroad, shaping their perceptions of U.S. culture and politics. Working with these populations could help identify issues of importance not only to foreign born U.S. residents but to their families abroad.

In terms of programming, the government should ensure that PD programs are well funded, strategically coordinated, and based on a foundation of mutual respect and collaborative partnership. It must be clear to all participants and observers that the goal of these programs is not exclusively to share U.S. culture and messages with the world, but to expose U.S. citizens to the cultures and messages of other nations. Doing so will support public diplomacy objectives like those stated in the strategic plan: supporting U.S. foreign policy, advancing national interests, enhancing national security, informing foreign publics and strengthening the relationship between the United States and the world.

Implementing the strategic plan will likely prove challenging in the twenty-first century. As information and communication technologies become increasingly ubiquitous, U.S. messages will vie with contradictory narratives in an increasingly competitive information environment. In addition, it is likely that U.S. public diplomacy will continue to be hindered by insufficient coordination and resources, unless changes are made to address these needs.

Awareness, anticipation and action will be key as the United States moves to implement novel public diplomacy initiatives in the new century.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Some disturbing observations about the information age, courtesy of my roommate:

Ashton Kutcher has 4.97 million followers on Twitter.

There are 125 countries with populations smaller than 4.97 million.

The U.S. State Department, for the record, has 21,287 followers on Twitter.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Public Diplomacy in the Twenty-First Century

I recently watched the episode of Buffy where they accidentally scan a demon into a computer and it takes over the Internet (Bear with me, I'm actually going somewhere with this) and while I was highly entertained by some of the now-archaic language and attitudes in the script, to say nothing of the inevitable demon smackdown, it did get me thinking about how those attitudes have evolved over the past decade--and how much uncertainty still surrounds the relationship between civil society, communication and the "interwebs."

In 1997, cyberspace was still unexplored and unfamiliar to a large segment of society. Thirteen years later, the number of people with no Internet access is shrinking every day. And while fears that virtual reality will eclipse and replace reality reality have diminished considerably, questions about the impact of modern technology remain.

R.S. Zaharna, a professor at American University and author of Battles to Bridges, suggests that public diplomacy has two frameworks, one focused on information dissemination and the other on relationship building. Modern information and communication technology are particularly suited to information dissemination, but their relationship-building capacity is less clear--an ambiguity that's actually addressed in the Buffy episode when two characters are debating the merits of technological evolution. The first, making the case in favor of development, argues that "more digitized information went across phone lines than conversation" in the past year, to which the other replies, "That is a fact I regard with genuine horror."

Proponents of PD 2.0 will argue that interactive technology makes it easier to build relationships online via sites like Twitter, Facebook and Second Life. Since starting this blog, I myself have made the acquaintance of several "cyberbuddies"--people I've never met, but have come to know through the Internet, a fact that both amuses and disturbs me. At the heart of that disturbance is my faith in the "last three feet," and a belief that meaningful human interaction must involve, well, human interaction.

I'm not exactly a card-carrying Luddite, but I do believe that face-to-face interaction is important for all relationships--even for public diplomacy. To that end, technology is just a tool. A very effective and ubiquitous tool, but a tool nonetheless, and one with some considerable limitations.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Soapbox Derby

It's been a while since I've dusted off the old soapbox and clambered up it to address the masses with the indispensable wisdom of my opinions, so today I'm addressing America's public diplomacy strategy, lifting liberally from my final exam in Public Diplomacy:

When the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs released its twenty-first century public diplomacy strategy, the document was criticized by some for lacking innovation and specificity.

The plan identified five "strategic imperatives" for public diplomacy: shaping global narratives; expanding and improving interpersonal relationships; combating violent extremism; ensuring foreign policy decisions are well informed; and improving structures, processes and resources for more coordinated and effective public diplomacy. These are good and important goals, but it is essential that the Office identify how this vision will be implemented.

U.S. public diplomacy resources are diverse and well established, including tools such as exchange programs, information and broadcasting bodies, cultural exhibits and social media outreach. However, these programs have historically been underfunded except for periods when the United States felt itself to be threatened by some foreign menace. The difficulties arising from low funding have been compounded in recent years by the dissolution of USIA and the lack of a clear coordinating body for public diplomacy activities. In addition, many public diplomacy programs are unidirectional, demonstrating greater adeptness at sharing information than gathering it from other countries.

Any strategic plan for public diplomacy must acknowledge these shortcomings and the fact that information and communication technologies are making rapid, inexpensive, broad-scale communication easier every day. Therefore, the Office's implementation of the new public diplomacy strategy must be coordinated and well funded, and its programs must emphasize listening to and collaborating with foreign publics. A successful public diplomacy program must engage foreign publics in general, not merely elites. It must celebrate the nation's culture and achievements without belittling those of other nations. And it must be based in wise and defensible foreign policy decisions. A presidential directive, like that described by Bruce Gregory in Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication could integrate policy and public diplomacy, ensuring that public diplomacy officials are involved in assessment, planning and evaluation of foreign policy.

The current strategy calls for structural reforms, but the result of the proposed changes is still a fragmented, uncoordinated collection of public diplomacy bodies. The Office should reconsider the existing restructuring proposal and focus instead on creating a new body to coordinate cultural diplomacy programs. The Department of State would continue to run its public diplomacy information programs. It is unrealistic, and excessively limiting, to expect all public diplomacy actions to be contained within one government body. After all, there is wisdom in USIA director Edward R. Murrow's strategy of encouraging citizen diplomats, foreign correspondents and others to tell the nation's story.

But it is equally unrealistic to expect that a message delivered by such a diverse body can be fully controlled. The State Department should create a branch devoted to facilitating communication between various public diplomacy agencies—formal and informal, governmental and non-governmental—but the branch should acknowledge that perfect coordination is impossible.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On the Radio

"A radio brought the world together, he said very often. Anything that brought the world together he called a blessing." -- Chaim Potok, The Chosen

I've been celebrating the semester's end by reading non-academic books, and the quote above caught my eye yesterday. As the number of global Internet users approaches two billion, it's easy to forget how many people around the world still lack access to Internet resources. For many people in many countries, radio is still the most dependable source of news and information.

However, as I've noted before, U.S. radio broadcasts aren't always effective tools of public diplomacy. Radio broadcasts should strive to increase U.S. credibility; provide accurate, objective reports; gather accurate information from broadcasting regions; and actively engage with the residents of broadcasting regions, demonstrating a desire to learn as well as inform. Too often, U.S. programs have been dismissed as propagandistic tools of the government.

U.S. broadcasters operate in an increasingly competitive information environment, particularly in the Middle East. If the BBG were to demonstrate its commitment to free speech by emphasizing the importance of interaction, increasing opportunities for call-in shows and debates and other activities that allow the audience to contribute to content-generation, could it improve the reputation of its programs? Or is their connection to the United States a hurdle too big to overcome?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Talk to the Trees...

Over at Salon, Joe Conason writes on the failure of Al Hurra to engage Arab audiences.

Despite a title that promises to explain why Al Hurra has failed, Conason neglects to provide concrete hypotheses, simply noting that his panel at the Arab Media Forum "never reached unanimity on the successes and shortcomings of the Qatar-based international news channel--or of Al-Jazeera English, its sister operation," although "there was broad agreement that the U.S.-branded Al-Hurra has been a very costly mistake."

While U.S. broadcasting has been celebrated as a successful public diplomacy tool in the past, most notably for its contributions during the Cold War, modern broadcasting is indeed a costly enterprise, and in an increasingly competitive information market, many broadcasting operations are struggling to keep up.

Like Conason, I recognize that there are many reasons for the poor performance of U.S. broadcasters like Al Hurra and Radio Sawa, but I'll focus on one specifically here, namely that broadcasters tend to regard the legitimacy of foreign audiences as an extension of their perceived ability to promote U.S. policy goals.

Arab audiences are frequently treated as objects to receive messages, as opposed to independent agents capable of shaping and responding to ideas. This style of broadcasting reinforces existing power dynamics and attitudes, and it's hardly surprising that it's failed to capture a large percentage of the market.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How Simon Cowell Promotes Civil Discourse

I don't think anybody would argue that Snooki is improving the United States' image abroad. But reality TV could have some benefits for improving civil discourse around the world, according to this post, which caught my eye when a friend linked to it on Facebook.

It's a blog about reality television and what it reveals about the Arab world. In it, professor Henry Jenkins interviews Marwan Kraidy, author of Reality Television and Arab Politics. According to Jenkins, Kraidy's book argues that reality television, frequently depicted as a harbinger of western civilization's demise, has actually provided a medium for the Arab world to explore and pursue major social, cultural and political changes in recent years. The interview discusses some of these changes, and how they've been influenced by reality TV.

[Reality Television and Arab Politics] offers vivid case studies over how the international formats of reality television -- especially those around Big Brother and Pop Idol -- have become the vehicles through which the Arab public has worked through contradictions surrounding modernity. Kraidy sees these formats not simply as another symptom of western cultural imperialism, but through the localization process, as ways that the Arab world takes measure of its own cultural practices and political traditions. These formats, and localized responses to them, force certain issues into the forefront of the popular imagination, but they also suggest a much more diverse set of worldviews at place in Middle Eastern culture than typically emerge in western representations of this region.

Jenkins highlights some of the major themes of modern international communication: media globalization and cultural imperialism, "glocalization" of information products, communication as a tool of development, and the debate over what form that development takes.

I've blogged before about the globalization of media culture and the strength of subaltern narratives. And if we run that phrase through the dejargonator, it comes out as the struggle for smaller groups and individuals to influence a public sphere dominated by media giants. I go back and forth on this one, but I think the key may be participation. The more active a group is in receiving, interpreting and forming ideas, the more power they have to control the message. States and transnational corporations obviously have tons of power, but every so often a savvy group of subalterns manages to wrest control of the story away from them for a little while.

There is, of course, a massive disconnect between reality TV and reality, but if we really want to get all post-modern about it, isn't reality both relative and subjective anyway? Common realities arise when they are commonly constructed. So why not use reality TV as the medium?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Betty White Propaganda

Even casual consumers of pop culture are by now aware that Betty White is comedic gold, handing SNL its best ratings in 18 months when she hosted the show last week.

White, who was invited to host after a Facebook campaign pressured NBC to do so, drew more than 12 million viewers to the show with a mix of grace, self-deprecation and frank humor.

She acknowledged her social network supporters in the opening monologue. "When I first heard about the campaign to get me to host Saturday Night Live, I didn't know what Facebook was," she said, smiling sweetly. "And now that I do know what it is, I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time." By most accounts, White killed on Saturday night. Even Justin Bieber was impressed.

All of this has led to the formation of a rather modest proposal: Let's unleash Betty White on the world. She's got charm, levity, versatility and experience. She's got an online presence and a legion of multi-generational fans. The phrase "game for anything" is frequently applied to her. And isn't that what a cultural diplomat should be? Flexible, open-minded, pleasant and self-aware?

The "Betty White to Host SNL" page on Facebook has more than 514,000 fans. How many fans do you think we'd need to convince the State Department to confer on Ms. White the title of cultural ambassador?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Unlikely Ambassadors

While scrounging for information on Japan's public diplomacy, I came across this odd little article on three cultural ambassadors who dress in the style of anime/manga heroines to promote the concept of kawaii, or cuteness. The decision seemed only marginally less bizarre than naming Hello Kitty an ambassador. But that's one of the things that I love about cultural diplomacy: the inevitable wackiness that ensues when governments try to highlight both the uniqueness and universality of their cultural heritage.

Cultures are inherently different from one another. They have different expectations and objectives and behaviors. And the act of cultural diplomacy must tread a fine line between celebrating those differences and building bridges. The fact of the matter is that a lot of cultural diplomacy programs navigate that in-between space, and so it's inevitable that they'll look out-of-place. But some of the weirdest ideas end up being extremely successful, and that's the beauty of cultural diplomacy.

Below, I've drawn up a list of some unlikely cultural ambassadors. It's neither comprehensive nor authoritative, but includes the names of several cultural ambassadors who have navigated the brackish cross-cultural seascape.
  1. Shirley Temple Black -- Shirley was a traditional ambassador, not simply cultural, and she was probably a fine one, but there's something about this photo that just seems incongruous to me.
  2. Rain -- Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of this video (not to mention this one). But Rain's appeal is his pop music. So why was he chosen as an athletic ambassador? And does it matter? He's insanely popular.
  3. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong -- Ellington and Armstrong were two of the American jazz musicians the United States sent abroad as cultural ambassadors. Jazz was incredibly popular both at home and abroad, so choosing the men was a no brainer. What's more surprising is that their international service occurred years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  4. Rihanna -- The pop star was appointed a Culture and Youth Ambassador for her native Barbados, but critics complain that the skills that have made her famous aren't representative of her home culture.
So that's my list, or at least the start of it. I'm sure I've missed dozens of obvious choices. Whose name would you add?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Turning Japanese

I've written before about inter-concentrational smack talk at American University's School of International Service, but it's worth noting that friendly ribbing occurs even within individual concentrations. So it was that an anonymous IC student was recently lamenting her inability to locate any information on Japanese public diplomacy. This led, of course, to disparaging remarks about her abilities as a researcher in general and at least one arrogant boast (from me) that the information could be located quickly--with the right skills.

Well, the information is out there. But locating it proved more difficult than I'd initially assumed. Scholars and journalists (at least those publishing in English) have been comparatively silent on the subject of Japanese public diplomacy. But after some scrounging around, I did manage to find some information, highlighted below.

Japan seems to be emphasizing cultural diplomacy, particularly programs that involve exchanges, pop culture and language instruction. But the objectives and targets of Japan's efforts are unclear, although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website makes a vague reference to the importance of PD as a soft power resource and many of the sites listed below refer to the importance of dialogue, exchange and mutual appreciation.


Japan's Gross National Cool: This 2002 Foreign Policy article addresses the growing soft power influence of Japanese pop culture, including film, animation, manga, music, electronics, architecture, fashion and cuisine. Sample grab: "Japan is reinventing superpower--again.... From pop music to consumer electronics, architecture to fashion, and animation to cuisine, Japan looks more like a cultural superpower today than it did in the 1980s, when it was an economic one. But can Japan build on its mastery of medium to project an equally powerful national message?"

A New Dimension in Japanese Public Diplomacy: This 2008 press release from the Tokyo Foundation describes efforts to increase international exchanges and Japanese-language instruction. Sample grab: "Spurred by the momentum of China's Confucius Institute, the Japanese government is pressed to rebuild its overseas language education program and public diplomacy."

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website offers quick links to several educational and
professional exchanges, as well as investment information. A page dedicated to public diplomacy and culture has more links to provide general information about Japan, Japanese pop culture, language education, exchanges, partnerships with international organizations and cultural grants. Sample grab: "In order to conduct foreign policy smoothly and effectively, it is essential to promote an understanding of Japan among the general public overseas and to enhance their image of and sense of affinity toward Japan, in addition to appealing directly to policymaking groups in other countries."

The Center for Global Partnership focuses specifically on
promoting collaboration and exchange between Japan and the United States. The Japan Foundation and the Japan Center for International Exchange also further exchanges. The Agency for Cultural Affairs supports culture-promoting policy. And the Foreign Press Center provides information on the country in both English and Japanese.

The general objectives of Japanese public diplomacy are clear. But what are the specific goals? And who are the main targets? I'll throw the question out for any IC student eager to demonstrate her superior researching abilities: What's at the heart of Japanese public and cultural diplomacy?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Global Wisdom about Happiness

"Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you." -- Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length." -- Robert Frost

"A great obstacle to happiness is to expect too much happiness." -- Bernard de Fontenelle

"Happiness: an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another." -- Ambrose Bierce

"If you want to be happy, practice compassion." -- Dalai Lama

"If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years." -- Bertrand Russell

"People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy." -- Anton Chekhov

"But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?" -- Albert Camus

"All of us have had the experience of a sudden joy that came when nothing in the world had forewarned us of its coming - a joy so thrilling that if it was born of misery we remembered even the misery with tenderness." -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Most of us believe in trying to make other people happy only if they can be happy in ways which we approve." -- Robert S. Lynd

"Happiness is a mystery, like religion, and should never be rationalised." -- G.K. Chesteron

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happiness: A Private Matter? II

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -- Leo Tolstoy

Far be it from me to question Tolstoy, but are happy families really so much the same--or happy individuals for that matter? After an underwhelming spin through Coke's Expedition 206, I started to wonder whether the metrics of happiness are universal, or whether attempts to define them are destined to produce glib soundbites that reveal more about the assessor than the happy cultures whose euphoria is in question.

So I put the question out to some of my transnational friends--that is, those who had lived at least six months in a country other than the one they were born in--and asked them to weigh in. What makes people happy--universally or in a specific country? The most common response was that I was a huge nerd for asking, followed by votes for having the freedom to do what you want to do and also for having good friends. I promised to keep responses anonymous, so below is a sampling from unattributed sources:
  • "I have no actual data, but I'm happy to generalize wildly for you!The main source of happiness I saw in my little Russian city had to have been strong interpersonal relationships. There was nothing better or happier than hanging out with good friends, or family, or even colleagues for hours on end.I don't see the same level of that in the States except in very small communities: tight knit college campuses, exceptional workplaces, and unusual families. There's also a huge divide, in Russia and in the U.S., between what people *think* should make them happy (stuff) and what actually leads to happiness (being comfortable with themselves, having interesting things to do, knowing edifying people). Yay, generalization!"

  • "I have been thinking about what makes people happy in Brazil and I don't think there is one answer but for my generation there is definitely a strong reason: "make sure you do what you like." ... [M]y parents always emphasized that if you do what you love, you will be happy. But I have to say that in general Brazilians are happy. It is crazy how sometimes you see somebody that makes barely enough to pay their bills and eat but are still very happy. I don't know how to explain but it is an energy that I haven't found anywhere else."

  • "I do believe that relative equality/inequality has a ton to do with happiness. As a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador, I saw how happy people were in my little village, where everyone mostly lived at the same economic level. But when they'd take the hour-long bus ride into town, saw people with more than they had, they'd feel "poor" and would begin to want more, or feel hopeless that they'd never reach the levels of prosperity that they had recently been exposed to. It's not everything, but I think that being (or at least feeling) on the same economic level (or feeling that you have the same *opportunities* at least) is a huge factor in how happy people feel. Just my two cents."

  • "My response is that "happiness", and the pursuit thereof, is a peculiarly American concept. I honestly don't think we dwell on it this side of the pond as much as you guys do. We tend to just get on with things... I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. Being obsessed with happiness makes you more likely to try and take a proactive approach to your life, so that you can get what you feel you deserve or even need. On the other hand, not thinking about happiness too much means that there is probably less chance of your being unhappy..."
So judging from my entirely unscientific sample, it looks as though there are plenty of different ways to be happy, many of which cut across cultures. Something to think about for anybody trying to establish common ground with another culture...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Happiness: A Private Matter?

Last night I turned in my final paper--three memoranda addressing U.S. public diplomacy for the twenty-first century.

Among the many changes I proposed with all the audacity and brio of a first-year M.A. candidate was the establishment of an independent body, along the lines of the Goethe Institut or the British Council, to oversee cultural diplomacy. Several students made similar recommendations, and in our final class, we discussed our suggestions and debated their merits and disadvantages.

Even though I supported the establishment of a non-governmental American Cultural Center, I'm a little leery of letting the private sector assume the mantle of U.S. cultural diplomacy, particularly after seeing how little they've accomplished at the Shanghai Expo. Is the free market really equipped to promote public and cultural diplomacy?

In response to a recent post, Paul Rockower of Levantine sent me this link to a site chronicling the year-long adventures of three Coca-Cola "happiness ambassadors." Their mission, according to the site, is to visit all 206 countries in which the fizzy elixir is sold ("14 more countries than are represented in the United Nations!") and discover "what makes people happy." Presumably in the less-than-48 hours that an itinerary of 206 countries in 365 days dictates.

Among the earth-shattering discoveries uncovered by these intrepid ambassadors are that Czechs enjoy having fun, Rwanda is the spot to see mountain gorillas "kick back," Colombians enjoy living passionately and pursuing their dreams, and the people of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, enjoy running, walking, and maintaining good health and positive attitudes. Evidently the happiness survey didn't target any of the glue-addicted street children I remember from my last trip to San Pedro Sula.

Sarcasm aside, this program exposes one of the main disadvantages of entrusting public and cultural diplomacy to the private sector. Companies are experts are selling images, ideals, dreams. They market happiness, or the illusion thereof. But they're less committed to exposing unpleasant truths, which leaves them open to accusations of propaganda and whitewashing.

My paper's turned in, but my mind's still not made up. I recognize that the private sector and NGOs have skills and resources the government lacks--but their motives and methods are significantly different. So what's the right balance?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Get Happy!

“Happiness is in the taste, and not in the things themselves; we are happy from possessing what we like, not from possessing what others like.”
--Francois de La Rochefoucauld

"[S]oft power — getting others to want the outcomes that you want — co-opts people rather than coerces them." -- Joseph S. Nye

It's Happiness Week at manIC, in celebration of the semester's end and the completion of all papers, exams and presentations. And I'm celebrating with a week's worth of posts on the subject of happiness, which is (as the quotes above suggest) intimately related to public diplomacy. One of PD's main objectives is to enhance national soft power, increasing the likelihood that all parties will share the same goals and be delighted in their achievement.

If you'll wait a few minutes so I can dust off my soapbox, I believe the quotes above also reveal what I see as one of the major weaknesses of public diplomacy, namely that it is so frequently a unidirectional enterprise. So many PD programs are developed from the perspective of getting others to want what we want (and I'm not trying to label anyone with the "we" here; that's just for grammatical simplicity), instead of identifying common goals and working towards them together. As de La Rochefoucauld would no doubt agree, there is some satisfaction in pleasing one's friends, but ultimately, people like what they like. But that hasn't stopped a lot of countries from using public diplomacy to show others what they should want.

America is definitely in the business of exporting happiness--via democracy and the products of the free market (see below).

U.S. public diplomacy, like the U.S. ad industry, seems certain that with the right product or the right philosophy, American-style euphoria could be yours. But are other countries really buying it? For nearly a century, the United States has been trying to convince its enemies and allies that freedom and democracy form a sure foundation for happiness and success, with no sign of abandoning the platform any time soon. So what does that say about the culture of the United States?

Perhaps John Updike said it best: "America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy."

Americans at Home

I adore Slate's Bogus Trend Story feature, so I was delighted to see that this week's offering has an IC theme. Jack Shafer rips into the NYT claim that Americans are de-patriating at a rapid clip like a hammerhead into a bag of chum, although he starts off with a deceptively friendly caveat:

Before we set fire to this article and throw it out the window, let's commend it for not misrepresenting itself. It states that "more" Americans are giving up citizenship in the headline, and that appears to be substantiated in the piece, which reports that 743 expatriates surrendered their "U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status" in 2009. The figure in 2008 was 235. More is more.

But, as Shafer wisely points out, two years do not a trend make. And examining a wider pool reveals mixed results. The numbers don't steadily increase; they fluctuate. Expatriates occupy a unique position in international communication, the hinterlands of cross-cultural exchange. But those districts aren't as overrun with ex-Americans as the Times story might have you believe.