By Isabella Parrotta, Program Coordinator, MCID Washington
I always knew I wanted a career grounded in international relations, partly because of my multi-cultural background, but also because of my love of learning about different cultures and perspectives. I wasn’t sure, however, that I would find a career path combining my passion for cultural exchange with a desire to make a practical difference in the lives of others until I learned about public diplomacy efforts like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Through internships in the Global Ties Network and my participation in the Emerging Leaders Program in 2019, I saw an opportunity to pursue a profession of both purpose and practice, one that runs on the ability of people to collaborate and communicate with one another, all while creating soft-power ties that promote national security.
I first learned about IVLP while interning at the World Trade Center Institute (WTCI), a Global Ties U.S. Community-Based Member (CBM) based in Baltimore, MD. There, under the tutelage of Leslie Morales and Jamal Washington, I saw firsthand just how much of a positive impact IVLP can have, not only for the international visitors, but also for the interlocuters who meet with them and exchange best practices. Interning at the WTCI, where I was given the opportunity to research project proposals, learn about the program structure from my mentors, and even attend a few meetings in person, helped me see that a globally-focused career in public diplomacy and exchange was something I aspired to undertake.
This desire was only made stronger after my mentors at the WTCI nominated me to be a Global Ties U.S. Emerging Leader where I had the privilege of meeting like-minded young professionals interested in international exchange, learning about the IVLP from practitioners, and networking at the Global Ties U.S. 2019 National Meeting. Hearing about the inspiring stories of IVLP alumni and seeing the collaborative energy of international exchange professionals encouraged me to pursue an IVLP internship later that year with World Learning, a National Program Agency (NPA) within the Global Ties Network, which in turn helped me land a full-time position at MCID Washington, also an NPA, as an IVLP Program Coordinator. In fact, I learned that MCID Washington was hiring at the Global Ties U.S. 2020 National Meeting! I truly believe I would not be in my current position were it not for the fantastic mentors along the way who encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities like the Emerging Leaders Program and hone skills that are crucial to implementing IVLP.
If there is anything I have learned from my professional journey in IVLP, it is that you should try to connect with people whenever you have the chance. Networking often gets a bad rap as being fake or self-serving, and while it can sometimes be that way, in my experience, networking is one of the best ways to foster collaboration, mentorship, and education. I know from personal experience that it can be intimidating as a student or young professional to reach out to established people in their respective fields, but their advice and expertise are priceless. Exposure to different job opportunities and experiences is a crucial aspect of fostering a more diverse and inclusive field in international exchange so that what international visitors see and learn from us is truly representative of the United States. Effective networking, and its offshoot, mentoring, are just a few of the many ways we can do that.
Long story short, if you have the opportunity to learn and grow, take it! And if you don’t have the opportunity presented to you, try to make it. I asked people for numerous informational interviews and participated in as many professional development events as possible, including a job shadow day organized by my university, in my quest to be prepared for the career I wanted. That experience introduced me to someone who then served as a mentor when I needed advice about careers in international exchange and the Global Ties Network. You never know how one interaction can lead to an opportunity or give you a new perspective.
Finally, you shouldn’t limit yourself to only networking with “experienced” professionals, as your peers can also be fountains of advice. For example, a friend and colleague of mine in the IVLP network has been an amazing connection since our days interning at a CBM together, and we have been able to serve as resources for one another and share best practices, opportunities, and ideas. I also remain in contact with former peers and supervisors from past internships who continue to be great sources of professional camaraderie.
International exchange is about reaching out and building connections with one another across diverse experiences, cultures, and backgrounds — and it starts with our own networks.
Isabella Parrotta is a Program Coordinator at MCID Washington and a 2019 Global Ties Emerging Leader. She was an IVLP intern at the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, MD and at World Learning in Washington, DC before joining MCID Washington in March 2020. She is a 2019 graduate of American University where she obtained a BA in International Studies with double minors in History and International Business.