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Sarah Carey served as an exhibit guide for "American Home Exhibit" in 1959. Following is the edited excerpt of an interview conducted by Ian Kelly, Director of the Office of Russian Affairs, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
I was at Harvard (when I heard about the Exhibits Program) and in the Russian language classes the word got out that they were looking for guides. This was Sokolniki. And I had had like one year of Russian and I could barely speak, but I went down to Washington and interviewed, and I didn’t make it as a guide. But some of the corporations were looking for young people to help out with their exhibits and I got hired by Pepsi Cola.
Memories of the 1959 American Home Exhibit and the "Kitchen Debate"
Vice President Nixon came through, it must have been near the opening, it would have been in the early part of the exhibit, and he and Khrushchev had this debate. And we all kind of hovered around watching. But that was probably not as extraordinary as the events of the summer. The exhibit was so packed, and with such a huge interest, and people - Russians - were trading in those znachki
and people just dying to get information and to see manifestations of U.S. culture. It was a blatantly materialistic exhibit with all sorts of glitzy, glitzy stuff, but it was pretty impressive. And the U.S. managed to put together, thanks to Army training, some minority guides, which was new for the Soviets to see minorities up there on the stage.
The exhibit was just a vehicle. I mean, the exhibit was a platform and you’ve got these bright young kids who had broad liberal arts educations who were allowed to talk freely, and the questions ranged from atheism to space to material wealth, that kind of thing right to travel, et cetera.
Because of my major, in reading all the party propaganda and the current history about the repressiveness of the system, et cetera, I had the usual surprise that I think everybody got in those days: that these people are a whole lot like us. They’re open. They’re generous. They talk pretty freely. I expected a lot of poverty; I expected propaganda and certain amounts of repression, but the human side was a really positive surprise. And also that of the young people we met, which was like 90% of who we met. It was the kids of the party officials who were the most disaffected because they had access to books, and maybe TV, and they had traveled some with their parents, so those kids were just so cynical about the system and what was going on. That was one surprise. The other was that that was still a time when you could see the impact of the war - the guys, the double amputees, on platforms, wheeled platforms. The preponderance of women over men, in certain age groups it was very visible and it was a shock.
I wonder if you could just talk a bit about the way you see the value of contacts between the U.S. and Russia, and the importance of them.
I am sure you can guess my answer: I think they are hugely important. I have three daughters; they didn’t get into Russia, but they’ve all gone and worked right after college somewhere else in the world. And I think it’s very important for Americans. And I think if you look at the number of Foreign Service stars that have come out of this bizarre experience that we all had. And then even, I’ve run into guides who are in business, this one guy who is a lawyer, but you know, it just grabbed us. So, from our side, I think it was extremely important to get people who weren’t, you know, programmed. We didn’t have a world vision that was dictated by U.S. policy. We were kids who were fascinated by the culture. And I think that for all of us that was really important. It certainly you know, my whole career was shaped by it. And on the Russian side, it was the openness and the interchange, you know, not with an official, not with somebody who’s trying to accomplish something, but just a free conversation. And, you know, since I’ve worked a lot with the Russians that have come over here, some of the high school exchanges, like the Bradley Exchange or whatever it’s called, and the Muskie Fellows. And those kids, those young people, really understand biculturalism; they understand international standards. So, I don’t think we can put enough emphasis on it. And I think if it’s done in a way, I mean, you couldn’t have exhibits today, nobody would come, but if it’s done in a way where the people being exchanged are doing something, they have a constructive assignment; studying does that, but maybe an internship or experience working in a Russian company or bank and the other way around. Those kinds of exchanges, I think, have a real lasting impact.
Ms. Carey is a partner in the law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP, where she chairs the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Practice Group. Her practice has involved investment and privatization projects in emerging markets, including the People's Republic of China, South and Central America, and South Africa. She currently focuses on international transactions in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Ms. Carey has participated in U.S. government delegations to the CIS, and in bilateral conferences on legal and trade policy issues. President Clinton appointed her to serve on the first board of directors of the Russian-American Enterprise Fund, and the U.S. Secretary of Defense appointed her to the board of the Defense Enterprise Fund. Ms. Carey also chairs the Board of the Eurasia Foundation, created by the U.S. government to support economic and democratic reform throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1959 and 1961, she traveled to the Soviet Union with USIA exhibits. She received her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and her law degree from Georgetown University.