Exchange Matters / June 22, 2023

In Conversation: Building Community Through Exchange

By Valerie Holt, 2023 Emerging Leader 

In the fall of 2022, as a senior in college, I began my internship at the World Affairs Council of St. Louis (WAC STL). I was eager to undertake the internship, but I had no idea how transformative my time with this organization and the Global Ties Network would be.  

While researching WAC STL, I learned about their work with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and was immediately interested to be part of an organization that was build connections between U.S. and international citizens through exchange. Soon after, I was able to attend IVLP meetings and see the impact on our visitors. In a particular meeting on media literacy, I was struck by the engagement of the international participants to connect with our community. Their enthusiasm to share their perspectives was matched by their eagerness to learn about mine. At the end of our exchange, we left enriched and ready to share these experiences with others back home. This showed me the importance of IVLP exchanges in building connections with our communities and diplomatic relations with other countries.  

My internship with the World Affairs Council of St. Louis was my first time working in an international field. This experience validated my passion for working in international relations and exposed me to new career possibilities. It was inspiring to work with others who shared my passion. I have continued to learn about the large IVLP network and different global career opportunities that exist through my participation as a Global Ties U.S. Emerging Leader. 

I was nominated for the 2023 Emerging Leaders Program by the World Affairs Council of St. Louis. As an Emerging Leader, I organized an event surrounding refugee resettlement in St. Louis. I became interested in this topic after participating in a community event the World Affairs Council of St. Louis organized, which brought together speakers working with resettlement in St. Louis. I had studied other immigration pathways but was unfamiliar with the work of refugee resettlement happening in my community. I thought other students may also be unaware about refugee resettlement and set out to educate my peers so they too could learn about this topic and be a resource to those working in St. Louis.  

I organized a panel on refugee resettlement at my university, St. Louis University, with professionals working in this field. The panelists included John Worth from the International Institute of St. Louis, Suzanne Sierra from the St. Louis Mosaic Project of the World Trade Center, Madeleine Grucza from Welcome Neighbor STL, and Abby Cedano Jimenez from Bilingual International Services. These organizations offered a very holistic picture of refugee resettlement. The International Institute and St. Louis Mosaic Project shared their experience with finding refugees housing, jobs, and educational opportunities, while Welcome Neighbor STL and Bilingual International Services explained how they offer mental health resources, introduce immigrants to community members, and help them acclimate to life in a new culture.  

For her refugee resettlement panel, Valerie (pictured right) hosted four speakers who discussed their work, local initiatives supporting refugees in the St. Louis area, and how students could get involved.

Most of the students didn’t know about refugee resettlement and were amazed by the work being done in St. Louis. The speakers and audience had a fruitful discussion, and students learned how they could get involved in volunteer opportunities and how they could apply this into various career fields. It was inspiring to see the impact of this event and accomplish my goal of educating students about refugee resettlement. 

Recently, I graduated from St. Louis University with a B.A. in International Studies and with minors in Spanish and Economics. I am continuing my job search, looking for jobs at nonprofits or within the government. For other young professionals in the field, I believe it is important to think about what impact you want to leave and remain steadfast in your search. International work grows more important as our world becomes more connected, and exchanges increase our awareness of other cultures. It has been an amazing experience to be a part of the Emerging Leaders Program.