Exchange Matters / January 15, 2021

Exchanges Advance Democratic Values & Civic Engagement Globally

International exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) are an opportunity for global citizens to experience the United States firsthand, see the strength of our civil society, and learn about our country’s democratic values. We asked Global Ties Network members to share stories and reflections on how the international exchange programs they host help advance democratic values and civic engagement around the world.


The Fall 2020 cohort of IVLP participants on the “Current U.S. Social, Political, and Economic Issues for Young European Leaders” exchange take a group photo on the closing day of their virtual exchange. Photo provided by Graduate School USA

On Inauguration Day, Graduate School USA hosted a one-day IVLP event for alumni and future participants of the IVLP projects, “Current U.S. Social, Political, and Economic Issues for Young European Leaders.” Ten participants from the 2020 iteration of the project, along with a designee for participation in 2021, took part. Countries represented were Armenia, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom. The 2020 project, which IVLP conducted as a virtual program in October and November before, during, and after the 2020 presidential election, afforded opportunities for the young European leaders to exchange views on current social, economic, and political issues in the United States with an array elected officials, legislative staff, social and political activists, and federal, state, and local officials.

The international participants themselves had proposed reconvening on Inauguration Day 2021 for a reunion and to watch a livestream of the oath of office and inaugural address, and the Office of International Visitors authorized the event to go forward as an official IVLP project. Georgetown University Professor of Government Clyde Wilcox, who had met with the group in October to discuss the U.S. federal system of government, rejoined the group shortly after the inaugural ceremonies and presented his views on the transition of executive power, federal executive-legislative relations in the near term, and likely policy initiatives of the new administration.

The participants were happy to be able to gather together, albeit virtually, to experience such a historic event, and proposed reconvening in May for a follow-on project to discuss the impact of the first 100 days of the new administration.


Left to Right: Shani Harvie (GT ABQ Communications Coordinator), Santiago (Colombia), Paloma (Brazil), Mayor Tim Keller, Fabiola (Bolivia), Valesca (Haiti), Malu (Peru). Photo provided by Global Ties Albuquerque

“You never know who you will run in to around Albuquerque. In October of 2018, our YLAI cohort was beyond excited to run into Mayor Tim Keller at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Although this project was focused on entrepreneurship, the fellows were very impressed at the presence of elected officials within the city.”

Organizing National Program Agency (NPA): Meridian International Center

Photo provided by Global Ties Albuquerque


In April 2018, an IVLP group focused on “Minority Participation in the Political Process” met with now Congresswoman Deb Haaland (top right) just months before her historic accomplishment of becoming the first Indigenous woman to join the United States Congress. Congresswoman Haaland recently made headlines for her historic nomination to become the next Secretary of the Interior. This meeting was particularly impactful on the IVLP participants who were themselves leaders in indigenous communities in Latin America.

Organizing NPA: IIE

Photo provided by Global Ties Albuquerque


In February 2020, New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón Esq. met with an IVLP group on investigative journalism to speak about government transparency and communications with journalists.

Organizing NPA: FHI 360


In October, WorldBoston arranged a virtual IVLP project on exploring youth and civic engagement. The program featured 12 participants from across Africa and included an interesting discussion on partnerships for engaging youth in local governance. James Colimon, WorldBoston’s gatekeeper at the City of Boston Mayor’s Office and its International Partnerships Manager, warmly welcomed the group in Boston fashion and introduced his colleagues Rashad O. Cope, Director of Youth Engagement and Employment, and others with the Mayor’s Youth Council Boston to discuss the importance of the youth council model in local government. The visitors from Uganda were keen to replicate the mayor’s youth council model in their communities and followed up with the City of Boston representatives.

Organizing NPA: World Learning

In December, WorldBoston virtually welcomed a group of journalists from the Near East and North Africa to discuss journalism and U.S. foreign policy. During one session, Professor Stephen Flynn. Ph.D., from the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University, outlined the differences between domestic security and national security. He also offered predictions regarding U.S. foreign policy in the coming years. It was a fascinating and insightful discussion with an expert. We thank Professor Flynn for consistently answering our call to Citizen Diplomacy.

Professor Flynn himself is an alumnus of a WorldBoston/Cultural Vistas project called “City to City: Community Leadership in Preventing Violence.” WorldBoston hosted a group from Manchester, UK, in December 2017 and Flynn met with them at Northeastern. Then Flynn went on a reverse exchange with other Boston representatives to Manchester, UK, in January 2018.

Organizing NPA: Cultural Vistas


Diplomacy is not only practiced in the halls of government but at the dinner table, the conference table, or any table that welcomes us all as we share our experiences, our culture, and our thoughts. We are all diplomats. IVLP allows us the opportunity to engage everyday Chicagoans in diplomacy. Our neighbors, our colleagues, our leaders, and elected officials here in Chicago can come together, allowing us to address inequities and create solutions.

In October 2020, WorldChicago hosted a group of international visitors from Africa for meetings with Chicago Votes, Democracy Program at the Robert McCormick Foundation, and the Illinois Collaboration on Youth during a virtual IVLP on Youth and Civic Engagement.

Organizing NPA: World Learning

Photos provided by WorldChicago


In August 2019, a group of IVLP participants focusing on Transparency and Accountability in Government attend a Town Hall meeting with U.S. House Representative Brad Schneider.

Organizing NPA: World Learning


Photo provided by The International Center


In September 2019, a U.S. Foreign Policy IVLP group met with then Congresswoman Susan Brooks.

Organizing NPA: Meridian International Center

Raphael and other IVLP participants at the IVLP Alumni General Assembly in Benin. Photo provided by The International Center


In December 2020, we reconnected with Raphael Edou, a 2010 IVLP participant–turned Indianapolis resident. When he was selected for the IVLP, he held the position as the president advisor for the local government in his home of Benin in western Africa. His program’s focus was professional engagement in public services, and he noticed a common theme of honesty and openness in the U.S. government that he admired.

When he returned to Benin after his IVLP experience, he became the minister in charge of the local government in 2011. “I remember my experience in the U.S. with transparency, and that was my focus point during my two-year term,” he says.

During his IVLP experience, Raphael met many people and built lifelong friendships, spending time with home hospitality hosts where he would get to know volunteers in their homes over a shared meal. He recalled a particular meal with a family in Michigan. They were able to discuss many things and remain in touch to this day.

Over dinner they discussed their cultures by talking about food, political systems, music, raising children, and marriage. He noted, “It was amazing to see how people were interested to understand other cultures.”

In addition, Raphael keeps in touch with the other participants from his trip, and when travelling somewhere new, he looks for someone in that country that also participated in IVLP because he immediately has someone to connect with.

Raphael enjoyed his experience with IVLP and wants the program to continue, giving even more people these experiences. He wants Indiana and The International Center to have a more involved role as well because of his growing love for Indianapolis. He says, “I want the families here to understand the program and get involved, and I want families to get to share experiences with visitors.”  He also wants more people to understand the positive impacts it provides. “All participants become friends of the United States. So everywhere we are, we are connected. That is something that is really important because we come here, and we learn a lot from this culture, and then we share it with other people.” 


Adrian (left) with former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait. Photo provided by IVCLA.

IVCLA was happy to reconnect with Adrian Sealey of Trinidad & Tobago, who was highlighted in IVCLA’s September Newsletter as a #FacesofExchange alumni. Adrian came to Los Angeles in 2017 as an IVLP participant on a progam organized by Meridian International Center.

In 2013 Adrian co-founded Ryu Dan Dojo martial arts academy. Adrian realized he could positively mentor the youths who looked up to him, and his extensive community work with the Dojo captured the eye of the U.S. Embassy, leading to his 2017 selection as an IVLP participant.

A highlight of his L.A. program was a meeting in Anaheim, where he was inspired by former Mayor Tait and his “Make Kindness Contagious” model. In 2018 Adrian was allowed to use Anaheim’s theme to launch his Unity in the Community, Make Kindness Contagious initiative.
Adrian is now a Police Constable for the Community Relations Department at Chaguanas Police Station. He says “I was encouraged and supported to create a community-based group which I coined the Crown Trace Youth Empowerment Committee (CTYEC)”. The CTYEC was able to initiate Anaheim’s theme of making kindness contagious at the Postman Recreational Ground, a breeding ground of crime in the community. By highlighting the positive deeds that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, the stigma on the community was changed. In October 2020, the U.S. Embassy recognized Adrian’s outstanding community service to localize the “Make Kindness Contagious” campaign. After IVCLA’s Facebook post in December, Adrian informed us he was featured on the local news channel.


An IVLP participant visits the Muhammad Ali Center during a visit with Meridian International Center in 2015. Photo provided by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky & Southern Indiana


Meeting with international visitors through virtual programming has been incredibly uplifting. This past October, I was fortunate to collaborate with participants from twenty different countries through the IVLP program on Youth and Civic Engagement. We met with the Louisville resource, the Muhammad Ali Center, to learn more about their youth programming, UCREW and MACCS.

In spite of geographic differences, visitors shared both familiarity with Muhammad Ali’s legacy and a shared commitment to civil rights advocacy through youth programming.

I was consistently impressed with the insightful questions and the incredible perspective our visitors brought to this important discussion. Even in a virtual setting, I have never felt more connected to a common, global commitment to promoting civic engagement among future generations in all of our communities.


The IVLP provides so many visitors with the wonderful opportunity to see the United States in action. From meetings with elected officials, to grassroots community organizers, they see all aspects of the democratic process. Our community also learns much from the visitors, as they share their own challenges and successes. Without a doubt the cause of democracy is well served by the discussions that IVLP facilitates and bonds forged through these programs that link the world together.

Photo provided by the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire

Empowering Women in Pakistan’s Legislative Branch
Organizing NPA: Meridian International Center

In July of 2019 we hosted a group of seven international women from Pakistan. Throughout their time here they had the opportunity to meet with top elected officials, including one very special meeting. The group got to sit down for an hour with Marianne Williamson, former U.S. presidential candidate. With New Hampshire being the first state to hold presidential primary elections, it is not unusual for visitors to meet candidates on the campaign trail. However this was the first time one of our groups got a one-on-one meeting. This was a huge eye opener for these visitors, as they learned about the challenges women face in running for elected office from the perspective of a Presidential Candidate.

In addition, while touring the New Hampshire State House, the women had an impromptu meeting with Governor Chris Sununu. They were so impressed that he would take the time to talk with the group and of course take a few pictures, when it was not originally planned on his schedule. This was something they never expected and highlighted the openness of NH’s government.

Finally, the group also had the opportunity to attend a Citizen’s Exchange Circle, where they met with politically minded women. Some of the local participants were former House of Representative members, including one who is openly gay, which gave the group insights into the empowerment of women in government of all backgrounds. This was a unique opportunity to collectively discuss how everyone can be a role model who help propel other women into office.

Photo provided by the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire


Democracy and Governance in the U.S.
Organizing NPA: Cultural Vistas

Later in July on 2019, we had the honor of hosting a group of governors from Papua New Guinea. Meetings were arranged with state police, town administrators, the Secretary of State’s Office, and legislative officials. The most important meeting was with Governor Sununu (above), who sat down with these men to talk about the similarities and differences between their positions and countries. This comparative discussion provided great insights to both sides as to how government can be improved. The best part was when the Governor Sununu asked the others what he can do to help them in Papua New Guinea. They never thought this program would provide the opportunity for continued collaboration from overseas.


Photo provided by the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire

The Will of the People – Elections in Democracies
Organizing NPA: Meridian International Center

We host a variety of groups on elections throughout the year, but one of the most memorable was a multi-regional project in late October of 2019. Politics is something New Hampshire does well. With local elections every two years and first in the nation presidential primaries elections every four, there is always someone campaigning here. This particular group had the amazing luck of visiting campaign rallies for four different presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans. Without a doubt this group got to see, firsthand, the excitement that many people have for each candidate and for the political process in general. When the group attended a Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Candidate Amy Klobuchar. they were so excited so see the large turnout and continuously mentioned how this would not be possible in their own countries.