An American in Belgium

By Roberta Jackson

I know I said the visit to IPC was my favorite place to date, but that was yesterday, today I really enjoyed our visit to the US Embassy. I realized that the trip has developed in a very logical pattern; each day’s itinerary has built upon the previous day. Just to recap, we began with the historical perspective of the dominant cultures of Belgium beginning with the French then the Flemish. Next we learned how technology, communication and relationship management affect media and communication from the Belgium perspective. Today’s visit to the US European Media Hub and the Office of Public Diplomacy divisions of the US Embassy provided the same information as the previous day’s tour, but from the US perspective within Europe and US perspective within Belgium. I could directly relate the US embassy visit to our international public relations class from last fall.

COM 7300: International Public Relations…
I am currently pursuing a career in public relations with a concentration in health communication; however, I was very intrigued by today’s presentation in public diplomacy. The public diplomacy officer (PDO) and public information (PIO) or public affairs officers (PAO) are very similar to public relations professionals. The only difference is the PDO, PIO and PAO’s client is the government, and public relations professionals can work for the public or private sector. Both pubic relations and public diplomacy are responsible for wearing multiple hats and could be responsible for coordinating events, media training, speech writing, handling social media, and press relations and publicity in addition to crisis and cultural communication.

Our class on international public relations covered both public relations in the public, private, and government sectors from an international perspective; however, we did not discuss public diplomacy officers specifically and their responsibilities. It was interesting to learn about the challenges they face, both positive and negative when dealing with the US Ambassador. PDOs need to adapt to the agenda of the appointed or selected ambassador while still maintaining the focus on long-term relations between the US the respective country.

US Belgium relations…
Prior to this visit, I was not aware of the interconnectivity between the United States and Belgium. The relationship was compared to an invisible bridge where the information can flow freely and openly to and from both sides. There are several cities in the US named after Belgium cities (i.e.: Antwerp, OH, Brussels, NY) and there are over 500 affiliates of US companies operating in Belgium. Pre-depression Herbert Hoover established Commission Relief Belgium (CRB) that provided aid to Belgians to keep them from starving. The Hoover story is no longer taught as a part of Belgium history, so the US Office of Public Diplomacy is in the process of preparing an updated packets for the Belgian schools. We were also provided with a public relations gie-away: a glossy reference book that tells the US Belgium history that were were allowed to keep. Overall the visit was both informative and eye-opening. Since Belgium relies so heavily on traditional media, I am interested to see how the younger generations embrace of technology will change the current landscape and how they will adapt.

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