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Alumnus nominated to become ambassador to Russia

Posted on May 14, 2008

President George W. Bush has nominated Grand Valley State University alumnus John Beyrle to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Russia.

The nomination requires approval by the U.S. Senate. Beyrle currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria — a post he has held since 2005. Beyrle is a career member of the senior Foreign Service. He joined in 1983 and has specialized in Eastern Europe. Before serving as ambassador to Bulgaria, he was deputy chief of mission in Moscow. Beyrle also served as counselor for political and economic affairs at the U.S. embassy in Prague. From 1993-95, he was director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. He speaks Bulgarian, Russian, French, German, and Czech.

In a 2005 interview, Beyrle credited his time at Grand Valley with inspiring him to travel the world.

“Grand Valley opened up a whole world for me,” Beyrle said. “When I came to Grand Valley, I met a whole range of professors -- these were people who had traveled a lot and encouraged me to get out and use the languages I was learning there, not just in an academic sense, to become a teacher or a linguist, but to actually travel in the countries. They probably inspired me to take up a diplomatic career, which is sort of the ultimate practical way that you can use the languages that you’re learning.

“It just opened a huge door to the outside world to me,” said Beyrle of his Grand Valley education. “I went through that door and I’ve been traveling ever since.”

One of Beyrle’s professors at Grand Valley was Christine Rydel, who is currently the coordinator of the Russian Studies program. She remembers Beyrle as a talented student.

“His extraordinary talents and ability to master many languages and sound like a native speaker made him stand out even in his first days at Grand Valley,” Rydel said.

Beyrle graduated with honors from Grand Valley in 1975 with a French major and German minor. He has remained close to Grand Valley through the years. He was the winter commencement speaker in 1997, and he recently met with Grand Valley students visiting Moscow on a trip with Rydel.

“When John found out that we were bringing 23 students to Russia for a study tour and that we would be in Moscow, he arranged to meet us not at the Embassy — where such meetings usually take place — but at Spasso House, the residence of the ambassador. Such a meeting rarely occurs and it was a great privilege. John had to get special permission form the ambassador,” Rydel said. “After giving the students a tour of the residence, along with anecdotes about his experiences in Spasso House, he sat with the students for about two hours and answered their questions about many aspects of contemporary Russian life and politics. I was very proud of the students, who asked good, profound questions full of their own insights about Russia that they had gleaned from their four-week stay in St. Petersburg and from extensive reading. John was impressed by them and even surprised by their perceptions of Russia and their wide reading.”

Beyrle has also met with Russian Studies students to talk with them about career possibilities in government service in the diplomatic corps. “I have been in touch with John since he graduated and he has always been generous with his time,” Rydel said.

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