Exchange Matters / December 28, 2018

#FaceOfExchange: The Stories Behind the Programs

Compiled by Abigail Gress, Communications Intern

Global Ties U.S. launched the social media campaign #FacesOfExchange from November 12-16 in celebration of International Education Week. We received over 35 responses from exchangemakers all over the world, including stories from our Community-Based Members. The stories were so inspiring that we extended the campaign indefinitely.

Exchanges remain a fundamental driver of U.S. public diplomacy. #FacesOfExchange offers a holistic view of exchange programs, from their implementers and participants, to the local homestay hosts that open their homes to the world. Exchange has the power to change the world—we’re highlighting this change one face at a time.


“I was born in the fabled desert city of Timbuktu, Mali. For most people, Timbuktu is the end of the world. But for me it’s the beginning of the world where a brilliant future is possible. I applied for the fellowship track of civic leadership and was assigned to Wagner College in Staten Island, NY, one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen. I attended lectures, academic sessions, and interacted with professors, mentors, host families, and other Mandela Fellows….I realized the importance of allowing different ideas on table, and learned how to become an effective and thoughtful leader. The fellowship was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Being amongst different leaders who have different cultural background, religion, and language, we came together to achieve one goal: to bring impact to African communities.”

Mahamane Djitteye, 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, CEO of Timbuktu: Land of Peace and Culture


“Since 2003 I have been working as an Arabic-English interpreter on International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and similar exchange and training programs. The moment that strikes me every time – personally and professionally – is when we have our closing session and the participants share the life-changing impact their exchange program has had on them. This makes me categorically believe in the importance of international educational programs. It is vital for all people to have an opportunity to meet face-to-face so they can exchange their expertise, professional experiences, and life stories. It is imperative to preserve and expand international education programs, and share our stories with the policy and decision makers. I am hopeful to see more faces of exchange.”

Moataz Elshehawy, Arabic-English Interpreter, U.S. Department of State


“During my childhood summers, my family would travel back to our family home in Innsbruck, Austria. I remember kicking the soccer ball at the garage or going to the public pool. I would look around and see the Olympic ski jump as I was playing. We drove as a family each summer around Austria, Italy, and France. When I had the opportunity following school to actually live out my dream to work in an international organization, which was the World Affairs Council, I felt I had truly found another home. Every day I get to learn something new about the world. Every day I am able to talk with people from different cultures. Every day I am thankful that this world is diverse and I can give back through helping my community think more globally.”

Michelle Harpenau, Executive Director, World Affairs Council – Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky

View more stories from the #FacesOfExchange campaign and share your story.