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Former Ambassador Matthew Barzun Talks Teen Perceptions Of The U.S.

matthew barzun
Festival of Faiths/YouTube screenshot

When Matthew Barzun first arrived in London as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, he began speaking to teenagers in schools across the UK about what they considered the positives and negatives of the United States. Barzun is speaking Tuesday evening to the Phi Beta Kappa society at the University of Louisville about what he learned from those teenagers. I spoke with him about his work. Listen to our conversation in the media player above.

Interview Highlights

On why he started visiting schools in the UK:

"When I went to the UK, soon after I got there, Pew Charitable Trust did a big global survey on opinions about the United States. I think there were 40 countries covered and in every country but one, young people — and I think it was people 18 to 25 — had a higher opinion of the United States than their parents and grandparents, which sort of makes sense. Except for one country, which was the United Kingdom, where younger people had a less favorable opinion. Now both numbers were pretty high, but I thought, OK, that's worth looking into.

"And so I started to go to high schools and talk to high school seniors. And I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot from them. By the end, I went to 200 schools and I did workshops with over 20,000 British high schoolers."

On what he learned from his talks with teens in the UK:

"What was so inspiring about listening to and learning from these young people in the United Kingdom was they are absolutely paying attention. They're not getting news maybe the same way I did at their age but they're paying attention, and they have really high standards for what their own country is up to around the world, very high standards for the United States and what we're up to.

"And finally, we make a distinction especially in diplomacy between 'foreign policy and domestic policy,' but if you note, the things I just mentioned that frustrate and concern them aren't to do with foreign policy at all. I mean those things do come up in the discussion but they are not foremost. So I learned we may think it's domestic policy, but it has a big impact to our closest friends as countries which is United Kingdom."

Matthew Barzun will speak at the 13th annual University of Louisville Phi Beta Kappa Lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. Details available here

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.