By Layla Melendez, Communications Intern, Global Ties U.S.
The city of Portland, Maine recently welcomed the new Impact of Exchange: Stories from U.S. Exchange Alumni photography exhibit for the first stop of the exhibit’s multi-city tour across the United States, drawing an estimated 79,000 visitors over the course of a month. Funded by the U.S. Department of State and hosted locally by the World Affairs Council of Maine from August 31 to September 30, the exhibit highlights the overseas journeys of U.S. citizens on government-sponsored or funded exchange programs in an effort to inspire communities with low rates of exchange participation to take part in these programs.
Allison Hodgkins, the Executive Director of the World Affairs Council of Maine, played a pivotal role in bringing this exhibit to Portland. Her nearly 15-year career has been spent facilitating international exchange programs for U.S. undergraduates in the Middle East as well as in Maine, including teaching at the American University in Cairo, and she understands the transformative power of such experiences. For her, the exhibit was a powerful tool to encourage more Maine students and educators to participate in these life-changing programs.
“Although nearly 1,200 students at Maine’s colleges and universities study abroad each year, we still rank 47th in the United States in terms of student mobility,” said Allison. “The exhibit captures the sheer joy of living and learning in another part of the world, as well as highlighting the many scholarship and fellowship opportunities that are available.”
Constructed of large, photo-vinyl cubes measuring six-feet tall, the exhibit was installed at Portland’s picturesque Amethyst Lot Park alongside the Eastern Promenade Trail. This outdoor setting provided a stunning backdrop for the stories within the photographs. In front of the sparkling Portland Harbor, these cubes became a place of reflection and inspiration for all who visited, including local elected officials, ambassadors, cruise ship visitors, and those from the community.
On September 7, the World Affairs Council of Maine held a kickoff event for the exhibit at the Roux Institute, captivating nearly 100 guests. In attendance were Exchange Alumni photographers Johnny Collins and Cat Del Buono, whose images are featured in the exhibit, as well as local Fulbright alumni; representatives of organizations that support study abroad; two retired U.S. ambassadors; and staffers from the offices of Senator Susan Collins and Representative Chellie Pingree [ME-1]. The evening’s wide range of attendees underscored the exhibit’s potential to reach and engage new audiences around the power of international exchange.
As Impact of Exchange: Stories from U.S. Exchange Alumni continues its journey across the United States, including stops early next year in Arkansas and Idaho, it leaves behind a legacy of awareness and enthusiasm for global engagement that will endure long after its departure from Portland.
As Allison concluded: “The exhibit showcased Maine as a global state and Portland as a globally-engaged city, which is extremely valuable. I’m so glad we were able to bring this exhibit to our community.”
Impact of Exchange: Stories from U.S. Exchange Alumni will travel to five U.S. cities between 2023-2024. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, it is being implemented by Global Ties U.S. and Photoville, a New York-based nonprofit, and local community-based partners like the World Affairs Council of Maine. The exhibit showcases a curated selection of photographs and the accompanying stories of 38 U.S. citizen Exchange Alumni representing 20 U.S. government exchange programs. Photos were selected through a competitive process to represent the broad diversity of exchange opportunities and experiences, showcasing the importance of cultural exchange on both a personal and global level. Visitors to the exhibit will engage with scenes of everyday life, community, and nature from around the world, and discover not only how similar life is globally, but also learn about the wide range of exchange programs available through the U.S. government.