Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
I first fell in love with Arkansas in 1992 as a new staffer on then-Gov. Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaign. The people are incredibly kind, the landscape is remarkably beautiful, the barbecue is the best in the country and the spirit of the state is extraordinary and unmistakable.
I've returned many times in the two decades since, and that affection has remained and even grown. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered me so many wonderful opportunities to work in our nation's government, and these have allowed me to return to this great state first as White House social secretary and now in my current position as the chief of protocol of the United States.
As the chief of protocol, I am our nation's chief liaison to visiting foreign dignitaries, which means I have the privilege of meeting a great deal of fascinating people from around the world. An important part of my job is to welcome kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers and other foreign leaders when they visit the United States on official business. This includes overseeing their visits and facilitating bilateral meetings at the White House and the Department of State.
I love the opportunity to engage with these leaders, in large part because it allows me to share my experiences with our country's remarkable places, people and stories. In those moments, I often bring up Arkansas because I believe it's one of the states that represents the best of America. While heads of state rarely have time to explore our great nation, the Office of Protocol has the privilege of showcasing our incredible country to these leaders' top diplomats — their ambassadors to the United States — through a program called Experience America.
Since 2007, Experience America has taken 11 trips with foreign ambassadors from all corners of the globe to different cities and states across our great nation, and more than 100 countries have joined the trips we've organized. They are a key piece in our public diplomacy efforts to educate other nations about the United States and to strengthen our bonds economically, socially and politically with countries around the world.
Working with the William J. Clinton Foundation, the office of Gov. Mike Beebe and many other public and private officials and organizations, we're kicking off our latest trip with a schedule designed to put the Natural State on display and show our guests the people, business opportunities, and history of Arkansas.
The goal of the trip is to connect the ambassadors with members of Arkansas' business, cultural, and academic communities and build relationships. Developing economic partnerships is a major priority of the Experience America program. The ambassadors will participate in roundtables in both Little Rock and Fayetteville to engage with regional business leaders about the benefits and potential of doing business in Arkansas.
Beyond an economic impact, by meeting a wide range of Arkansans from the state's many diverse communities and hearing their stories, we will lay the groundwork to foster greater cross-cultural exchange and mutual understanding. This is what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called "Smart Power" — the idea that people-to-people engagement should and must be the foundation for successful international relations in the 21st Century.
We will also showcase Arkansas's world-class art facilities, which will include tours of the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock and the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville. In addition, these chiefs of mission will visit the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville to experience how a vibrant and energetic community can bolster the academic experience of tens of thousands of college students.
It is no wonder that President Clinton, Dr. Maya Angelou, Sen. J. William Fulbright, Johnny Cash and so many other American legends hail from this very special place. The ambassadors will no doubt leave with a new appreciation for the natural beauty, burgeoning economic development, and remarkably kind people that have defined Arkansas. Just as I fell in love with the state during my first visit, I am certain that many of the ambassadors will do the same.
We look forward to seeing you in your businesses, restaurants and shops, and know you will show our guests the very best Arkansas has to offer.