Network Innovation Spotlight / May 27, 2021

Looking Back at 50 Years of Exchange, Impact, and Memories

By Jodi Michaels, Executive Director, and Ian Magnuson, Communications and Programs Associate, Colleagues International

Pictures of Alumni from 1974

A real photo album, from the 1974 visitor-to-visitor guide book, complete with bell-bottoms and some quality social time. Image provided by Colleagues International

Since getting its start as a seasonal exchange program within the Western Michigan University School of Social Work in 1971, CI Kalamazoo has evolved to an independent, volunteer-driven, professionally-run citizen diplomacy organization. To celebrate 50 years of enriching our community through exchange, we’re reflecting on our 49 years (only missing our perfect record due to COVID-19) welcoming social service professionals to Kalamazoo, using the the tools gained through the virtual exchange experience that has kept us connected this year, allowing us to mark our semi-centenary—and name change to Global Ties Kalamazoo—in style in the digital realm. 

We are looking to our 50-year legacy to imagine and embark upon our next 50 with some answers to the questions of what authentic, meaningful, engaging, multilateral and equitable exchange could look like in 2022 and beyond?

As part of our birthday celebrations, we have two series—one launched and one poised to take off—to explore these, and other questions, with people who have come to Kalamazoo and who have hosted in Kalamazoo. We have begun highlighting snippets of these works in our monthly newsletter and blog post

Former CI Kalamazoo President and volunteer, Judy Huth, shares a reflection on the IVLP impact that one lunch can have, in this teaser clip from our 50th anniversary interview series.

We have already launched our anniversary interview series with some of our long-serving volunteers. Teaser clips of the first two conversations with Jerry Potratz and Judy Huth are on YouTube. Many visitors, and all of our local staff and volunteers, have been treated to Jerry’s warm smile and Judy’s inviting laughter! As the interview series progresses, we plan to engage an ever wider swath of the people who make exchange in Kalamazoo magical.

For the second series, we’ve planned a podcast with our international visitor alumni exploring how Kalamazoo can reach out into the world, how the world can reach in, where these ‘reaches’ meet one another, and how necessary our work is to build these connections. Hopefully we will all learn a little bit about ourselves, and, for us locals, about the impact that Kalamazoo and its people have on the world. Between talking to 1970s alumni, to those who were with us when the pandemic was declared, we are excited to find out where these conversations might lead!

Both projects connect us to our past, and take advantage of our newly developed virtual skills to bring people together in the absence of travel. Most of our celebrations will be virtual but we do hope they will culminate in an in-person event in Spring 2022.

A group of staff and volunteers, including board members, is working to plan additional virtual moments of celebration. 

We’ve enjoyed unearthing archival materials, too, to get an amazing glimpse into our past. We will leave you with this first-ever ‘guidebook’ from one group of visitors for the next cohort, from back in 1974. As the opening advice in the guide says:

“You will be tired and exhausted when you arrive. Why don’t you all speak your own language and tell what you believe…”

Wise words to take into our next 50 years of exchange.