Exchange Matters / October 31, 2017

Exchanges from Within the Network: CBM Hosts Meridian Staff

Each year, staff members from a Community-Based Member (CBM) organization and a National Programming Agency (NPA) participate in an NPA-funded Network exchange to strengthen professional relationships.

Recently, Meridian International Center sent one of its staff members to engage with the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy (UCCD), a CBM, in Salt Lake City. Through meetings and site visits, the program largely focused on UCCD’s management and programming procedures.

The following article shares the perspectives of Zach Adams, Resources Information Officer at Meridian International Center, and Ahmad Zia Afzali, Program Director at UCCD, from this exchange.

Zach Adams, Meridian International Center

Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, I was greeted by stunning landscapes and a jewel of a city. I took a train to the city center and met my homestay host, Chris Wangsgard, a volunteer who traced his family back five generations to Danish immigrants who had traveled west with the Latter Day Saints. Chris’s wife, Erica, also spoke excitedly about her connection to the early pioneers, while discussing world politics, her love of art, and the fun they have had in hosting IVLP participants over the years.

The next day, I met the UCCD team members: Felecia Maxfield Barrett, Ahmad Afzali, and Natalie Williamson. After a day of sharing best practices in international exchange, it became clear that UCCD cares deeply about making visitors feel welcome, and crafting productive and engaging itineraries for them.

Over the following days, I interacted with staff and board members, and toured notable sites, such as the Little America Hotel. I also had the privilege of walking through Temple Square in the company of two missionaries who were extremely knowledgeable about the history, symbolism, and tenets of the Mormon faith. I was even able to watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice their Fourth of July concert!

Utah State Capitol. Photo credit: Zach Adams

Mormon tabernacle choir. Photo credit: Zach Adams

As the Resources Information Officer, it was exciting to learn how well UCCD keeps track of and develops their resources, and how seamlessly they develop new ones. I was impressed by the way they interact with their board members, who often provide home hosting and professional appointments. It was encouraging to know that UCCD was so willing to engage with other institutions in the area and coordinate their international efforts. I was more than happy to share information about Meridian’s culture, the IVLP planning process, and our organizational structure. The program contained all of the elements of a perfect IVLP itinerary, and more!

Ahmad Zia Afzali, Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy

UCCD was privileged to receive Zach, his energy, innovation, and eagerness to experience all that is Utah and UCCD through Meridian’s staff exchange program. Chris Wangsgard, a volunteer and former member of our board of directors, hosted Zach and remarked on the many hours spent discussing a variety of global topics as well as Utah’s unique culture.

Zach also met with other members of the UCCD board of directors and gained insight into the governance of our organization. Most of Zach’s week was spent engaging in conversations with UCCD staff and experiencing the impact that occurs between International Visitors and CBMs.

View of Temple Square from above in Salt Lake City. Photo Credit: Zach Adams 

Zach often expressed how much he was learning about the infrastructure of our organization as a CBM, our role as a nonprofit in Utah, and our culture. In turn, Zach shared insight into Meridian’s overall programming and culture, and how the network of organizations—such as the U.S. Department of State, NPAs, Global Ties U.S., and other CBMs—relate to one another. His visit validated that even as a small nonprofit, we are effective and efficient in our work to promote respect and understanding between the people of Utah and other nations.

UCCD applauds Meridian’s ability to administer and implement exchanges for International Visitors while strengthening its bonds with the Global Ties Network through these exchanges, making our efforts meaningful and everlasting. We look forward to hosting more staff exchange programs in the future.

Interested in participating in a staff exchange?

Be on the lookout early next year for Meridian’s invitation to all CBMs to send in an application to host an exchange or to visit Meridian for a week.

By Zach Adams, Resources Information Officer, Meridian International Center & Ahmed Zia Afzali, Program Director, Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy