Exchange Matters / June 6, 2016

It’s the Little Things That Make the Difference: Discover Diplomacy Weekend Celebrates Volunteers

What’s the significance behind hosting an exchange student? How does having a meal with a foreign visitor impact international relations? The seemingly trivial actions community-based members and volunteers do have a much larger impact than what meets the eye.

Global Ties Network volunteers have an incredibly important role in the course of diplomacy, but often times the end goal cannot be fully visualized. From May 6-8, Global Ties U.S. hosted the Discover Diplomacy Weekend to illustrate how the efforts of our volunteers contribute to foreign policy objectives and celebrate multicultural awareness. From an intimate lunch with ambassadors posted to the United States, to exploring embassies through the Passport DC: Around the World Embassy Tour, Discover Diplomacy attendees were treated to a unique global experience.

Two attendees in particular were acknowledged for their dedication to citizen diplomacy. Hailing from Huntsville, Alabama, 2016 Volunteer of the Year Award recipients John and Jane Davis have lived very full lives through their involvement with Global Ties Alabama as well as their many years spent abroad embracing new cultures. The pair have encountered characters from all walks of life, with Jane Davis remarking, “We’ve met people hidden during the Second World War and those who hid them, resistance workers and others jailed for ‘crimes against the state’. Most were ordinary people, like us.” John Davis even wrote a book entitled Rainy Street Stories, in which he recounts his travels abroad to regions often in political unrest or turmoil, and his engagement with local citizens.

Although the Davises are now residents of Huntsville, the two receive many foreign guests through the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and are brimming with stories from their many visits. Jane Davis recognizes the importance of these interactions, saying, “sharing a picnic, or playing another kid who didn’t speak your language, or smiling at a baby… these small everyday actions can bridge gaps we don’t even know exist.”

Bridging gaps was the theme of Discover Diplomacy, and the Davises and other attendees were able to see how their local efforts translated into a global context. The event kicked off with the Ambassador’s Voices: Hot Topics on the Global Stage luncheon, held at the historical DACOR Bacon House, which featured Ambassadors Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado of ‪Brazil, Jose Lampe Cuisia, Jr. of the ‪‎Philippines, and David O’Sullivan of the European Union, and was moderated by Global Ties U.S. Advisory Council member Ambassador Richard LeBaron. The panel and following discussion centered on pertinent international issues such as the refugee crisis and 2016 Olympics, and how they impact U.S. foreign policy goals. Most importantly, the luncheon allowed attendees interested in global affairs to interact with diplomats directly on causes meaningful to them.

Following with tours of the Voice of America and Organization of American States headquarters, Discover Diplomacy participants got a glimpse into the many ways United States representatives and institutions interact with foreign bodies. “I was astounded to hear today that almost every foreign guest took a photograph of the Voice of America Charter,” commented John Davis after the tour of the Voice of America studios. “This simple assertion, that the news should be truth, is a revolutionary concept in places where the press is not free.”

Later that night, John and Jane Davis were presented with the 2016 Volunteer of the Year Award by Deputy Director of the Office of International Visitors, Carol Grabauskas. Upon receiving the award, Jane Davis said, “Some of the world’s most life changing events happened because of unknown people who try to do good.” Her simple statement summed up the importance of what Foreign Policy Magazine labeled “the United States’ best soft-power tool”: the IVLP initiative and the many volunteers who facilitate it. The Davises are two of many wonderful volunteers that make international exchange programs not only effective, but also prove how worthwhile and eye-opening these experiences truly are.