Exchange Matters / October 13, 2022

Exchange Day: We Are the Change We Want to See

By Emily Commer, Director of Alumni Engagement, Cultural Vistas, with contributions by Tatiana Schitco, 2022 Edmund S. Muskie Fellow, Cultural Vistas Alumni Community

Small acts, when multiplied by people, can transform the world.

—Howard Zinn, Author of “A People’s History of the United States. 

Volunteering and community service are pervasive values in the United States, and one of the most memorable aspects of exchange programs for international visitors and U.S. citizens alike. The 2019 Volunteering in America Report found that an estimated 77.9 million adults—approximately 30 percent of the U.S. populationvolunteered 5.8 billion hours with an organization or association in the previous year, and generated an economic value of $147 billion. With almost one in three U.S. adults supporting community service projects and volunteer-run organizations, it’s fair to say that volunteerism is as American as apple pie and baseball.  

Each year, the Alliance for International Exchange hosts Exchange Day on the first Monday of August to amplify the contributions that international visitors in the United States make on their local communities. Exchange Day brings together participants and supporters of international exchange programs to #EatPlayGive as they participate in community service projects.  

At Cultural Vistas, we look to provide our international interns and trainees in the United States from over 100 countries with a meaningful cultural and immersive educational experience. We believe that international exchange is essential for bringing the world together by creating a shared understanding and appreciation of diverse peoples, values, cultures, and aspirations. These cross-cultural experiences nurture leaders, community activists, and change agents at a global level.  

This year we participated in Exchange Day with two events held in New York City and Washington, DC in partnership with organizations providing mutual aid to Ukraine. We partnered with Razom for Ukraine to assemble medical kits in New York and worked with the St. Andrews Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral to organize a donation drive for food and school supplies in DC. In total, 45 volunteers gathered across the two locations to provide humanitarian support for Ukraine. Many of the volunteers were exchange participants and alumni from countries including Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Russia, and South Korea, and also included members of the Ukrainian-American diaspora. In the end, we managed to assemble and send a record number of medical kits to the frontlines. 

“These critical supplies will save many lives in Ukraine,” said Yuliia Shama, Project Manager at Razom for Ukraine. “I believe such a partnership and cooperation between organizations is the best ground for victory! Thank you again!” 

Cultural Vistas J-1 interns and fellows, staff, and alumni in Washington, DC with items they collected in a donation drive for Ukraine. Photo provided by Cultural Vistas

Tatiana Schitco, a research analyst at the World Bank in Washington, DC was one of our event volunteers. She is a recipient of the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowshipa professional development program that provides opportunities for Fulbright awardees from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia as they complete their graduate studies in the United States. Below is her reflection: 

“I come from a region that has historically been a hotbed of geopolitical conflicts that frequently escalated into wars. These wars inevitably affect the civil population of the country. Right now, my neighboring country, Ukraine, is going through these horrors. 

[I]n an effort to mitigate the consequences of this horrible war for civilians, we came together to assist in collecting school supplies, sports equipment, and food to support the ongoing humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. The intention was noble and integrated well within the American culture of volunteerism. 

I expected to see mostly Muskie Fellows, people from our region who feel the pain that Ukraine is going through. Instead, I encountered Koreans, Americans, and people who weren’t even remotely connected to our region.  

These people weren’t indifferent to the pain of Ukrainian children and elderly people who suddenly found themselves fearing for their lives and fighting to survive. This touching experience has taught me that humanity is universal and isn’t restricted to geographical boundaries. It was one of the most important and heart-melting lessons that I will take back home.” 

This is the power of exchange and of the network of Cultural Vistas programs that contribute to transforming our world for the better. This is strengthened by fellow organizations in the Alliance for International Exchange; together, we are the change we want to see in the world.