Exchange Matters / September 29, 2020

July Virtual Learning Lab: Innovate & Implement During Program Pauses

Compiled by Christian Caudill, Senior Associate, Communications, Global Ties U.S.

Throughout 2020, Global Ties U.S. is hosting a series of Virtual Learning Labs to continue to provide Network members with professional resources and networking opportunities while in-person meetings are on hold. The first Virtual Learning Lab was held July 13-17. Read on for reflections from attendees and visit the Member Corner for resources and recorded sessions (login required).


I was initially skeptical of the format that this year’s Learning Labs would take; like most organizations within our network, much of my CBM’s programming took place in-person prior to the pandemic, so I was unfamiliar with Zoom calls.  However, I was reassured through this VLL that the camaraderie and dedication to the field of international exchange within our network is as strong as it’s always been. My CBM colleagues in the Global Ties U.S. network have always been ready to lend a helping hand, whether in the form of advice, suggestions, or simply listening.  That we were conversing oceans apart – rather than across the lunch table – did not make a difference.

We heard many times throughout the VLL to venture boldly and experiment during these uncertain times.  Even so, it was reassuring to hear from my peers that we needn’t necessarily “reinvent the wheel” where our programming or operations are concerned.  A pragmatic first step is, indeed, identifying low-hanging fruit: opportunities that can be easily transitioned to, and implemented on, virtual platforms.  — Erin Hoshibata, International Visitor Leadership Program Coordinator,  Pacific & Asian Affairs Council


The Digital Innovation session challenged the network to think creatively and consider, absent in-person interaction, how their organizations can continue to bridge local and international communities in their unique cities. CBM representatives shared about their experiences transitioning their speaker, cultural, and youth programs to digital platforms, and the necessary trial and error that accompanied the process.

Presenters offered the following suggestions for their peers:

  • Survey your members to identify the types of programs they would be most interested in during this time;
  • While designing programs, keep in mind that your audience’s needs are constantly changing.  Consider that “Zoom fatigue” and “COVID-19 fatigue” are increasingly common;
  • Consider how you can partner with alumni or existing partners to implement virtual events;
  • The Network may be in the virtual programming sphere for quite some time; adjust your unique organization’s programming schedule to a frequency that is sustainable for you!

— Erin Hosibata, International Visitor Leadership Program Coordinator,  Pacific & Asian Affairs Council


In a session focused on building organizational resilience during societal shifts, we heard from four CBM representatives, who shared their strategies for diversifying and staying connected with community networks. Through these presentations, it became clear that there is a keen interest from volunteers to stay engaged, as well as from IVLP alumni. Participants also brainstormed other best practices including using existing structures within the Network for support. There was a common consensus that peer support during this time has been vital and it continues to be extremely valuable to have the opportunity to share with and learn from our colleagues throughout the Network.

Discussions also focused on the crucial need of our organizations to respond to social justice issues and confront racial injustice. This includes having conversations with organizational leadership about ensuring diversity among staff, Board members, and volunteers. Many reflected on how our collective willingness to innovate and adapt has been remarkable and inspiring, prompting much creativity and collaboration on a local level, as well as across the national Network and around the globe. This is a demanding and challenging time for everyone, so it is often necessary to pause and reassess what is most important to our communities and how to best leverage the strengths of our organizations.

Participants left the session with a renewed understanding of how, during this time of international solidarity, we are able to reflect on the shared human dynamic and experience of the time, something essential to our missions.  — Cecilia Cross, Executive Director, San Antonio Council for International Visitors


Many programmers at CBMs (such as myself) have found the shift to virtual exchange to be overwhelming. It can be difficult to identify which platforms will work best in partnership with virtual exchange, while simultaneously learning about the basics of virtual programming itself. This session was an opportunity to learn concrete ways of applying many of these techniques and platforms that we may have known about but struggled to implement. Platforms mentioned throughout the session and resources available with the Stevens Initiative will be critical to developing engaging experiences for international visitors. Learning from the first-hand experiences of other members and absorbing the best practices they have developed was incredibly valuable. The emphasis on adapting to new project formats rather than trying to recreate in-person exchange has definitely enhanced how projects are implemented at our CBM moving forward.  — Sherilyn Harrington, Program Officer, International Visitor Program, WorldOregon


As part of the Virtual Learning Lab, Community-Based Members, in partnership with the National Museum of American Diplomacy, hosted Student Diplomacy Simulations to expose undergraduates and high school juniors and seniors to the skills and process of diplomacy. Read on for insights from Simulation partners.

Student Diplomacy Simulation participants learn the skills of diplomacy. Credit: WorldBoston


The National Museum of American Diplomacy’s (NMAD) Diplomacy Simulation Program, which organizes students in stakeholder teams representing different perspectives, invites them to play the role of diplomats. Using the core skills of diplomacy – composure, awareness, communication, and leadership, to name a few – the groups must work together towards common solutions to hypothetical global crises. This interactive program, now offered virtually, showcases the work of the U.S. Department of State and how diplomats use diplomacy to engage in global issues. Participants are introduced to how foreign policy is crafted and the art and challenge of working with global partners to address important issues.

NMAD was delighted to work with Global Ties U.S. to train facilitators to run NMAD diplomacy simulations virtually and give students around the country the opportunity to learn how to use diplomatic skills to resolve conflict, explore the work of diplomats, and better understand how the United States engages in global issues. — Lauren Fischer, Education Program Specialist, National Museum of American Diplomacy

The Student Diplomacy Simulation hosted by WorldBoston on July 15, 2020 featured impressive young negotiators excited to test their skills as chief diplomats. The students’ objective during this simulation was to reach a favorable resolution for their assigned fictional nation-state regarding a pressing refugee and migration crisis.

In past simulations, teams have been unable to reach a final resolution due to competing interests. However, this group of diplomats did in fact reach an agreement by the final round of negotiating. This feat was significant because the resolution required creativity and problem-solving skills from all participants.

When the simulation ended, WorldBoston staff joined the students to reflect on key lessons and takeaways from the simulation. The students contributed interesting reflections, including that the exercise was challenging because they were often arguing positions that contradicted their own moral beliefs. The reflection period demonstrated what these simulations offer young people learning about foreign policy: a chance to witness that diplomacy is challenging; that it requires patience and creativity; and that it asks participants to understand the bigger picture. Student diplomacy simulations also offer the unique opportunity to learn more about the way other people think and handle difficult situations, opening up opportunities for future problem-solving, which is lacking in the world today.  — Josh Bruno and Sarah Sibley, WorldBoston