Exchange Matters / June 22, 2021

Reflections on Designing and Implementing the Virtual Exchange Academy

Responses from CBM members describing IVLP Virtual in one word during the VEA Final Activity


By Amodini Khade, Training Program Design Fellow, Global Ties U.S.

As the hosts of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) virtual home hospitality simulation gave a tour of their home, I pretended to be an IVLP participant from India, experiencing Arkansas for the first time over Zoom. Through this lens, I viewed our hosts’ home, designed using sustainability practices, while also learning about their community through discussions of food and culture. This was just one of the many unique experiences I’ve had as the Training Program Design Fellow at Global Ties U.S.  

The Zoom home hospitality simulation was a part of the Virtual Exchange Academy’s final activity in which Community-Based Members (CBMs) across the country showcased their skills in implementing the IVLP Virtual program. Through the activity, I learned about the diversity of the United States from my living room, virtually traveling from the world’s highest elevation donut shop in Colorado to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. I saw the importance of opening homes and hearts to international visitors and creating lasting ties between communities through the IVLP program. 

I had seen this first-hand as an intern at the World Affairs Council in Seattle, where we worked hard to pivot to IVLP Virtual, implementing innovative ways to connect citizen diplomats in Seattle to the world. When the opportunity presented itself to help the Global Ties Network and our 84 CBMs across the country increase their capacity for virtual IVLP, I knew right away that this role would be a great opportunity for me to apply my IVLP programming skills by designing courses that help new-to-IVLP staff at CBMs learn about the virtual transition.  

I worked with the Training and Community Development team to design three courses for the Virtual Exchange Academy (VEA). Global Ties U.S. launched the VEA in partnership with the Office of International Visitors at the U.S. Department of State. The goal of these courses is to help IVLP-implementing CBMs gain the skills and confidence needed to implement IVLP Virtual projects successfully.  

The VEA included over 26 hours of programming on topics such as virtual exchange facilitation and Zoom technical skills. I designed courses on building community through constructive online engagement and facilitation tools that can be used in the digital space. These courses were based on the two virtual exchange facilitation trainings conducted in December 2020/January 2021 and February/March 2021 in partnership with Soliya. It was insightful to learn from a subject matter expert like Soliya and curate the experience to serve the virtual IVLP programming needs of the Global Ties Network.

I ensured that the training highlighted the strengths of virtual exchange such as increased access to IVLP programs while also addressing its challenges such as managing different time zones and facilitating online group cohesion. With the guidance of Brittany Rock, I started thinking about the learner experience in every aspect of the course development process- designing a curriculum outline, planning content videos, and developing creative visual activities in Articulate Rise, a course development platform. I also had the support of the VEA team including Franzi Rook and Ivan Escamilla, as well as Network members who generously gave me feedback before launching the courses.  

While working on the VEA, I witnessed the resiliency of the Global Ties Network. They have worked hard to not only adapt to the reality of executing a virtual IVLP with all the inherent technology problems, but have also found creative ways to make the online experience for international visitors more impactful, from hosting virtual escape rooms to cooking their special recipes and designing custom city tours. They have not let the challenges of virtual exchange deter them from developing new practices for hosting cross-city panels and tapping into each other’s expertise to provide the best experience for IVLP participantsI have only seen them become more confident in their ability to create a sense of place and community in this important work of forging lasting relationships between the United States and the world. It has been an honor working with an amazing Network and contributing in my own little way to help them build better virtual exchange programs. 

Being the Training Program Design Fellow gave me an opportunity to transition from my background in International Relations into Learning Design. I am excited to apply my experience and delve deeper into Learning Sciences. I intend to pursue a Master’s in Education to understand how to create equitable learning experiences that tap into students’ intrinsic agency as learners and world-builders. Most importantly, I have developed a strong sense of responsibility as a citizen diplomat and a deep appreciation for cultures around the world after closely witnessing how much our team and Network cares about building global ties.