Exchange Matters / June 23, 2020

Retirement Letter to the Global Ties Network

By Marilyn Saks-McMillion, IVLP Program Officer, World Learning

Marilyn (second from left) reconnects with IVLP alumnus Runcie Chidebe (left) whose exchange she programmed in 2016, and colleagues in the Global Ties Network at our National Meeting in January 2020. Credit: A.E. Landes Photography


Before I retire at the end of June, I’d like to reflect on the changes I’ve seen during my 24-year tenure working on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) at World Learning. This is an important pivot point and a transition period from what was, to what we are becoming, and what we will be — for the world, for the nation, for our work, and for me.

When I began, the IVLP was known as the International Visitors Program (IVP), and On Demand Programs were called the Voluntary Visitor Program. IVLP projects were also four weeks long. When they were shortened to three weeks, we couldn’t imagine how to fit a four-week program design into three weeks.

I’ve seen Global Ties U.S. rebrand itself from the National Council for international Visitors, and Councils for International Visitors (CIVs) become Community Based Members (CBMs) – several of which changed their names to reflect the Global Ties brand.

The Global Ties U.S. community is a vibrant, living thing. I’ve seen new CBMs come to life – Pensacola, Corpus Christi, and The Presidential Precinct – and expand their geographic programming, and I miss those that are no more – Orange County, CA; Wilmington, DE; Memphis, TN; and Houston, TX come to mind.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. We are forced to re-examine how National Program Agencies (NPAs) and CBMs will adapt to deliver programs and move forward. How will a virtual world affect international visitors to the U.S.? Will there be new program themes? Will the numbers of visitors change? How will programming for speakers, site visits, cultural events, and home hospitality change? What about the length of programs?

How will Global Ties U.S. meetings, summits, workshops, and programs like Network DC change? What special accommodations for staff training and new technology will be needed? If there are funding changes, how will that impact the Network? How will relationships with the hospitality industry and other vendors evolve? What new budget items may be necessary for virtual programs? And how will we still include those wonderful “Wow!” special moments?

What will remain the same is our special role as citizen diplomats. We passionately believe and take pride in the value of exchange, and know that the impact of the IVLP, and its new forms, will still make a difference in communities around the world.

After nearly a quarter century working with many of you (and your predecessors), I leave with confidence that those of you who continue to dedicate yourselves to this amazing program and its visitors will be just as creative, just as resilient, and just as impactful as ever.

As my favorite uncle used to say when complimenting someone, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” For now, it will be one virtual handshake at a time, until we can again shake hands face-to-face. So I share this wish to each of you: L’chaim! To life!