By Alaina King, International Program Coordinator, Global Ties Sacramento
After more than two years of virtual programming, Global Ties Sacramento had the pleasure of collaborating with Meridian International Center to welcome our first in-person International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) group in April of this year. Titled “U.S. – European Security Issues,” this single-country project for Spain brought seven international visitors together for a day trip to Sacramento to discuss current issues and strategies being implemented in subfields such as cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and disinformation. While we have now hosted several in-person projects, this group presented us with a lot of “firsts” that we are very grateful for as we continue to adapt and evolve in our programming.
Not only was this meeting our first in-person group since March of 2020, but it was also our organizational debut in the world of hybrid IVLP meetings. Given this group’s strong professional background in cybersecurity, we were able to virtually connect the group to Commander Jonathan Nuñez of the California Cybersecurity Integration Center during their program. After some initial trial and error for the room setup, we found our magic formula for hybrid meetings using a combination of a Bluetooth conference room phone and a wide-angle camera to capture the full group. Even though we would have loved to connect the group with this resource in person, we got to finally experience what the term “hybrid” can really look like moving forward, and we hope to be able to continue offering hybrid experiences that can connect visitors with professional resources who may not otherwise be able to meet with them.
In addition to leveraging more hybrid meetings moving forward, we are drawing on facilitation techniques in the virtual sphere – such as introducing speakers, assisting with fielding questions, and creating agendas – to perfect lines of communication. In the case of this first group, I had the opportunity to accompany them to their second meeting with one of our long-standing resources, Shannon Shellenberg, Director of the California State Senate Office of International Relations. This meeting showed us the value of incorporating many of our best practices from virtual programming, and how doing so can help recultivate relationships with our community resources, even when we are back in person. As I watched this group pose with the portrait of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and exchange stories with their speakers throughout the day, I was reminded of why we all are so passionate about this field in the first place: whether virtual, hybrid, or in-person, exchanges have the power to show people the human face behind diplomacy.
Even as we continue to rewrite old checklists and troubleshoot new challenges with the hybrid sphere of programming, the pivot back to in-person programming shows so much of the growth of the Global Ties Network over the last two years. For anyone in the Network, like myself, who may still be relatively new to in-person, the two biggest lessons I have personally learned since returning to in-person are to (1) continue to use many of those virtual facilitation techniques and (2) don’t be afraid to ask questions!
We are all learning or re-learning these processes and while some of the new in-person components may seem overwhelming, remind yourself that you possess so many new problem-solving skills that you learned through your virtual programming experience and that there is an entire Network supporting you. This was a landmark project for our organization on so many different levels and we are so grateful to the visitors, liaisons, Meridian International Center, and our Sacramento community for being a part of it – we look forward to many more to come!