This blog post by Kelli Davis, a program officer for SportsUnited in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, originally appeared on the State Department's official blog, DipNote, on July 28.
Imagine visiting the United States for the first time and having the extraordinary opportunity to watch some of the world's top American swimmers compete for a spot in the 2012 London Olympics. While many people had to gather around television sets to watch the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, a special group of swimmers from Tunisia had the chance to watch it live! Partnering with USA Swimming, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)'s SportsUnited division brought 13 athletes -- 12 youth and 1 coach -- to the United States for a sports exchange program from June 26 to July 9.
July 28 marks the start of the swimming events for the 2012 London Olympics, and USA. Swimming National Team member Ariana Kukors is preparing for her upcoming race in the 200m individual medley. Not only did the Tunisian athletes watch her qualifying race, but they also had the opportunity to meet the talented swimmer.
During the first half of their visit, the Tunisian youth attended the 2012 USA Olympics Swimming Trials and watched superstar athletes such as Michael Phelps, who was competing in his last Olympic Trial, and 17-year old Missy Franklin, who became the first American female to qualify for seven Olympic events. The delegation also participated in a Special Olympics session and toured Creighton University.
The final part of the program took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the delegation participated in a series of intensive swimming clinics, strength and conditioning trainings, and educational summer camp programs. Besides swimming and training alongside their American counterparts, the Tunisian kids were able to build special relationships with their new American friends through the camp's fun and collegial atmosphere. They were able to bond through camp activities on the beach, help each other overcome their fears on a ropes course, and enjoy a new experience together of deep sea fishing!
This program marks the fourth sports exchange with Tunisia, following up on basketball Sports Visitor and Sports Envoys programs in 2008, 2010, and 2012. People-to-people exchanges, such as this, not only enhance the visitors' athletic abilities but also help foster a better understanding of American customs and allow Americans to gain better insights into other cultures.