By Emilie Joe Brandt, Programs & Events Intern, Global Ties U.S.
On a gloomy day in Paris, I joined a Zoom call from my friend’s cramped apartment for my Global Ties U.S. internship interview. It was November of 2021, and I was working to digest the insights that I gained studying abroad while preparing to return to George Washington University for my senior year. As the beneficiary of a variety of international exchange experiences, I felt closely connected to the mission and work of Global Ties U.S.— to empower individuals, communities, and nations to build trust and advance prosperity through international exchange — and I was thrilled to be contacted about the Programs & Events position.
The first time that I heard about the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting was during my interview. The 2022 National Meeting (March 16-19) was described as an opportunity for the Global Ties Network to connect and collaborate while celebrating how citizen diplomacy and international exchange programs inspire, innovate, and move exchange forward. It would also be the first in-person event for the Network in more than two years – and include virtual components. I was sold. I knew that this was the exact experience I was looking for within my final semester internship.
Little did I know just how deeply I would dive into National Meeting planning and preparation come January. I worked with Allison Ball, Brittany Rock, and the rest of the Core Planning Team to think through our four-day schedule of programming, ironing out the details for networking breakfasts, plenaries, workshops, thematic sessions, and evening events. I joined meetings with our partners at the U.S. Department of State and saw their commitment to the Global Ties Network and the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) demonstrated in real-time. I even spearheaded projects to enhance the attendee experience, building out our virtual event platform, the Event App, to include quick links to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and daily testing instructions.
My internship was mostly virtual up until the National Meeting, and like many others, it had been almost two years since I practiced my in-person relationship-building skills. Despite my preparation, I felt a bit nervous on the Uber ride from my on-campus dorm to the Crystal Gateway Marriott, my new home for the week. However, the nerves were outweighed by my excitement to get to know the wide variety of speakers, partners, and attendees, and learn more about their experiences in the international exchanges field.
One of the first people I met was the Director of the Office of International Visitors at the U.S. Department of State, Anne Grimes, whose headshot I had uploaded one month prior onto our event website. It was refreshing to meet someone new face-to-face (even with our masks covering half of them) and I felt energized, knowing that the National Meeting would facilitate similar moments of connection for the rest of the Global Ties Network.
In fact, during the National Meeting Closing Ceremony, one community member shared that their highlight was witnessing two collaborators meet for the first time after working together extensively online throughout the pandemic. The energy of being together after spending so long apart was palpable. There was a collective celebration of the resilience and creativity exhibited in the implementation of exchange programs during the pandemic, coupled with an enthusiasm brought about by the renewal of community connection.
A session that encompassed this celebration was the Citizen Diplomacy Plenary. I spent the morning overseeing breakout session rooms and was expecting to watch the programming via the Livestream set up in the staff room. However, when Allison asked if I wanted to help usher speakers from the greenroom to backstage, I could not wait for this behind-the-scenes look.
The session began with remarks from Stacy White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Professional and Cultural Exchanges at the U.S. Department of State, who highlighted the Global Ties Network’s important role as citizen diplomats. I was thrilled when the screen transitioned from our holding card to a video of U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who expressed gratitude for the Network’s role in exchange programs and emphasized the importance of people-to-people exchanges in advancing U.S. foreign policy goals.
I followed along on my agenda, ushering speakers from the greenroom for their remarks and performances. However, when one of the recipients of the 2022 Citizen Diplomacy Award, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, stepped onstage, I forgot about my notes for a moment, captivated by their powerful poetry and performance.
“Masterpieces: our life in living colors. Our expression of hope. Something we cannot always control. The mission of Life Pieces to Masterpieces is to harness character through artistic expression and transform lives and communities.”
Their mission resonated as I stood backstage watching them lead the audience in their four C’s process, used to guide their work as community leaders: Connect, Create, Contribute, and Celebrate. United, the audience followed their motion to affirm a commitment to these guiding principles within their citizen diplomacy.
As I navigate graduating from college and entering into the public diplomacy field, their guidance felt especially important to me. It is easy to become entangled in the daily to-dos of emails, essays, and graduation preparation. However, Life Pieces to Masterpieces reminded me of a goal that brought me to the international exchanges field: to facilitate meaningful moments of connection across diverse communities. I am so grateful to the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting for its insight and I cannot wait to see how the connections formed throughout the week will support moving exchange forward.