Exchange Matters / August 10, 2021

Q&A with Graybill Partington and Gulf Coast Diplomacy

Editor’s note: Gulf Coast Diplomacy is building the next generation of citizen diplomats through globally-focused initiatives like the Youth Diplomat program and Camp Global, and through encounters between International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) groups and local young adults. We spoke with Gulf Coast Diplomacy Executive Director Jena Melançon, and Youth Diplomat alumna Graybill Partington, to learn more about the organization’s approach to international exchange and global engagement opportunities for youth in Pensacola and beyond.  

Why is it important for youth to learn about public diplomacy and cultural exchange? 

Graybill Partington: Global perspective is a critical part of a high school student’s education. Communicating and collaborating with others through cultural exchange leads to mutual understanding and appreciation of the greater world.

The Youth Diplomat program of Gulf Coast Diplomacy provides students in Northwest Florida, as well as youth from around the United States and the world, with opportunities to participate in cultural exchange, explore civic engagement, discuss current world events, simulate diplomatic problem-solving, and more. Through this innovative program, teens find common ground and celebrate remarkable differences. 

Youth Diplomats combine international exchange and community service. Photo provided by Jena Melançon.

What are some of the ways that the Youth Diplomats engage in cultural exchanges and learn about diplomacy? 

Jena Melançon: The Youth Diplomats meet once a month, and a team of fellow participants facilitates their sessions. Each Saturday session, the group discusses sensitive issues such as gender discrimination, access to education, and climate change. International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participants and alumni are a regular part of the Youth Diplomats program, with groups from Bhutan, Armenia and many more coming to Pensacola to discuss a diverse range of topics from Women in Entrepreneurship, to education and journalism. Together, the IVLP participants and the Youth Diplomats address these important issues through round table discussions, community service, and workshops. 

What has been the impact of the Youth Diplomat program on current and past participants?  

Graybill: Overall, Gulf Coast Diplomacy has created a program educating the next generation of world leaders and exposing young minds to essential aspects of cultural exchange. Youth Diplomats are better prepared to utilize the knowledge and communication skills they have gained through their program as they progress toward their future careers and mature as college students.

While travel has been limited through the global pandemic, the Youth Diplomats have successfully broadened their multi-cultural experiences and expanded their cross-cultural understanding through online engagement with each other and with IVLP participants and alumni. 

 Are there any moments from the Youth Diplomat program that stand out as being a particularly memorable or impactful experience? 

IVLP participants join Youth Diplomats for a community service experience in July 2019. Photo provided by Jena Melançon.

Jena: Among the many IVLP projects to meet the Youth Diplomats is the 2019 IVLP project “21st Century Changemakers: Be Best: Strategies for Combating Cyberbullying” brought journalists and other communications professionals as international visitors addressing cyberbullying on social media, an issue which many young adults face. During their visit, the international visitors joined the Youth Diplomats on a community service project, helping the Florida Department of Environmental Protection with a shoreline restoration project. 

How has the COVID19 Pandemic changed the way that the Youth Diplomats experience international exchange?  

Camp Global participants take a virtual visit to a llama farm. Images provided by Jena Melançon.

Jena: We created Camp Global last summer as a virtual exchange to continue connecting youth with their peers around the world. What initially started with Skype calls to youth in other countries evolved into a larger exchange that included students from El Salvador, Honduras, Kosovo, Mexico, and other parts of the United States. With the help of an IVLP alumna who visited Pensacola in April 2019, Camp Global has grown even bigger this summer. 


Interview with Madeline Black, Global Ties U.S. Communications Intern