Exchange Matters / April 29, 2015

Monumental Exchange: International Students Meet Americans in Washington, DC

“Are you travelling for business or pleasure?”

It’s a question globetrotters know well. Everyone involved in international exchange programs knows the most powerful and life-changing trips satisfy both needs. It’s the combination of personal and professional growth that has the most profound and lasting impact.

The inaugural Meet America Program—launched by Global Ties U.S. in Washington, DC in March—was designed to do just that for international students. This bold initiative allows them to experience American life and culture while participating in career development workshops, professional meetings, and networking opportunities.

The business side of their program leveraged the opportunities uniquely available in the nation’s capital. Participants looking to get a better sense of career opportunities had a chance to interact with those working at the seat of power for the federal government. Participants met with employees at the National Institutes of Health, one of the world’s foremost medical research centers. International students on the program also met with the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Commerce as well as representatives of the Japanese and Australian embassies. As one participant put it, “the meetings were insightful and motivating.”

Locals know there is more to Washington, DC than the federal government. Meet America participants also had the opportunity to meet with other professionals in their particular areas of interest. Participating students enjoyed meetings with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the National Institute of Mental Health; Toyota Motor North America, Inc.; and the Bank of Japan, among others. As one participant said, “the professional meetings were very helpful. I have made great connections and will collaborate on research projects with the interlocutors I met.”

While professional appointments allowed attendees to explore their future career path, tailored and interactive workshops allowed them to develop the tools they need to get there. Meet America participants took part in workshops to hone their skills in job hunting. They created resumes critiqued by human resources professionals. A second workshop focused on job interview skills. An international student observed, “I learned very much.”

It wasn’t all workshops and business meetings. The cultural and personal connections made through exchange programs are sometimes the most memorable and powerful. Meet America participants had ample opportunities to take in all the cultural and personal experiences DC has to offer. They toured world famous Washington, DC sights by night, and later in the week stopped by the White House. Participants got a taste of American sports, taking in an NBA basketball game between the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies.

Meet America fosters deep connections between international students and Americans. Families living in Washington, DC opened their homes to the participants, inviting them for a home-cooked meal. Known to international exchange practitioners as “home hospitality,” this practice enables students to connect with local communities in a personal setting.

The Meet America program enjoys the experience garnered from the Global Ties network’s 50-plus year record of successful international exchange program management. As one participant put it: “I feel better prepared for my career.”

By Collin Burden, Global Ties U.S.