Missouri Students Association President Xavier Billingsley attended a two-week exchange program in Moscow, Russia, at the beginning of the summer.
The exchange was organized, financed and promoted by the Center for American-Russian Engagement of Emerging Leaders. CAREEL’s mission is to maintain understanding and a network of trust between the next generation of American and Russian leaders, according to its website.
“CAREEL helps the first post-Cold War generation of American and Russian leaders replace preconceptions and stereotypes with firsthand experience,” the website said.
The nonprofit corporation was founded in May 2011 by several university student body presidents across the United States.
Billingsley learned of the program last year at the National Collegiate Leadership Conference. He said he met with past CAREEL participants, who sparked his interest, then applied for the opportunity.
Billingsley attended the exchange with 15 other American student leaders from across the country, many from Ivy League schools.
“We got to meet with students from top universities and government leaders and business leaders to talk about how to make our societies a better place,” Billingsley said.
One activity Billingsley said he found particularly interesting was a discussion of American and Russian stereotypes with the students he met in Moscow.
“It was so eye-opening to see what stereotypes they believed,” he said. “It was really cool to see how we could make things better.”
Russians are more reserved and closed-off than Americans, Billingsley said.
“People are more approachable in America,” he said. “People are more reserved in Russia, way more conservative when it comes to being approachable.”
Their business world is very different from that of the U.S., he also said. In Moscow, business professionals wear dark colors and do not talk very much.
Billingsley kept his Twitter followers updated about his activities in Moscow.
“Talking to a Russian minister Mikhail Abyzov about his new role with Open Government. This guy is a self-made billionaire,” he said in a tweet.
Billingsley said he plans to stay involved with the program, though the trip to Moscow was a one-time experience.
“They have an advocacy group to help students stay informed about Russian-U.S. relations,” he said.