Exchange Matters / June 28, 2021

International Visitors, Immigrants, Refugees: Creating a Welcoming Community that Spans Culture and Geography

By Patricia Grote, Executive Director, Iowa International Center

Welcoming the world to Iowa is central to the mission of Iowa International Center (IIC). Since its founding by a group of professors’ wives helping European refugees settle in Des Moines in 1938, IIC has worked to build and support a diverse, inclusive, and culturally rich community.  

To advance our mission, IIC began hosting international visitors through citizen diplomacy exchange programs nearly 45 years agoOur work with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and other international exchange programs have helped foster cultural understanding in a new, intentional wayfurther connecting Des Moines to other global citizens. 

In addition to our international exchange programming work, IIC also works with immigrant and refugee communities in Des Moines to provide interpretation and translation services, a 24/7 interpretation hotline, English Language Learner Academy training for volunteer teachers, workforce development programsand cultural programs. 

Together, these programs welcome exchange participants and new community members through a continuous loop of learning, understanding, and engagement among international visitors, Iowa professional and home hosts, and immigrant and refugee communities.  

During Immigrant Heritage Month and the observance of World Refugee Day on June 20, we have had opportunity to celebrate this. 

Kamryn RyanIowa International Center intern and a Global Ties U.S. 2021 Emerging Leaderset out to highlight the richness of Des Moines’ global population through a video projectPart of IIC’s virtual efforts to “get to know Iowa,” This Is Des Moines shares the amazing contributions made by immigrants and refugees, through food, music, movement, and art.  Social justice issues and a global pandemic over the last year have highlighted the need for programs and people who advocate for greater understanding, opportunity, and connection.   

Whether IIC is hosting IVLP groups from around the world, teaching English language, coordinating international dinners for travel-deprived Iowans, or bridging language barriers through interpretation and translation services, each interaction links people together.  We help people tell their stories and brush away at the surface-level differences to reveal values we have in common.  

Passport to Prosperity honorees – like IVLP participants – remind us why we do the work we do. Iowa International Center’s vision is to create global community, welcoming the world to Iowa, and introducing Iowa to the world. We believe we have a responsibility to create an Iowa and world where prosperity, culturally rich communities, individual growth, and a safer, more peaceful world depend on cultivating meaningful connections between people.