By Anne Grimes, Director, Office of International Visitors
Greetings Global Ties Network Partners, Colleagues, and Friends,
Five years ago, I entered the Office of International Visitors (OIV) to assume the role of Director. Little did I know what was in store for me at that time. How could I have known that my time in OIV would include a worldwide pandemic? How could I have known that we would embark on a complete shift to virtual programming and the world would forever be changed? I could never have predicted these things, nor could I have predicted that this would be the best job of all the jobs I have had during my 33-year foreign service career.
International exchanges are at the heart of public diplomacy. I have known that throughout my career as a public affairs officer. Over the years in Antananarivo, Beijing, Jakarta, Mumbai, Ouagadougou, and Surabaya, I met with countless International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participants when they would return from their time in the United States. I would listen to their impressions, their changed perceptions, the way their attitudes toward Americans had softened, and I would be excited for the relationships that we would continue to foster through the foreign service officers who would come after me. My favorite example is Biplab Paul of India, who I nominated when I was posted to Mumbai in 2003 and who would return as a Gold Star Alumni not long after I started as Director of OIV in 2018. After I left India, I learned how Biplab was inspired to create an irrigation method so successful that it was shared across India and beyond – to Africa and Southeast Asia. And the idea was sparked by his IVLP visit.
But what I never fully appreciated or even understood was the network of organizations and individuals who were the faces on the other side; all of YOU—the Global Ties U.S. Community-Based Members (CBMs) who are making this impact on the participants.
During the last five years I have visited a total of 28 CBMs. If the pandemic hadn’t gotten in my way, I would have attempted to visit each and every one of you! Every visit gave me insight into the breadth and depth of your reach in your communities, highlighted your expertise, and the role you play in creating life changing experiences for IVLP participants.
I saw how the members in Nebraska showed “Nebraska Nice” to every visitor and made them honorary citizens of the state. I loved seeing how the members in Arizona, Colorado, and Ohio joined together to plan projects for visitors in their states. And the Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summits and Learning Labs I attended in California (San Diego, 2019), Florida (Miami, 2018), Oregon (Portland, 2022), and Vermont (Burlington, 2023) were such great examples of citizen diplomacy at its best — both outward facing in each community and inward facing in the Learning Labs for the Global Ties Network.
When I see where this Network has been and where it is going, I am inspired. You help us build critical relationships between U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries, and through doing this, are at the center of advancing foreign policy goals.
You are the experts in what you do and what you do matters: to participants, to your communities, to the U.S. Department of State, and to U.S. foreign policy.
We know that participants benefit from their exchange programs, and we have long suspected that Americans also gain from the experience, but now with the Global Ties U.S. Community Impact Study results, we can say for certain that there are concrete benefits to the people and organizations who engage with international participants.
My call to action for all of you is to never underestimate your ability to make a difference right here at home and around the globe. Keep on changing lives, one visitor at a time.
A tremendous and heartfelt appreciation to all of you and to Global Ties U.S. for your partnership, for inspiring me every day, and most of all for your friendship.
Please keep in touch, on Facebook, LinkedIn, and X, or at my personal email address, which members of the Global Ties Network access on the Member Portal (login required).
All my best,