Exchange Matters / August 22, 2018

Retirement Tribute: Carol Grabauskas

Carol provides closing remarks at the Excellence in Programming Awards ceremony at the 2018 National Meeting this past February. Photo credit: Abe Landes

On August 31, Carol Grabauskas, Deputy Director of the Office of International Visitors (OIV) at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), retires from the U.S. Department of State after more than 35 years of working on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Here are her parting thoughts, as well as remarks from Global Ties Network colleagues:

How long have you worked at the U.S. Department of State, and specifically at the Office of International Visitors (OIV)?

I joined the State Department and OIV in June 1998, first as a program officer (PO) in the Europe and Eurasia Branch (EUR) of the Regional Programs Division (now the IVLP Division). On my first day, my new boss asked if I had any countries of particular interest. Given my Lithuanian heritage and my student and au pair days in France, I asked if those countries were available. As the newest PO, I wasn’t expecting to get my first choices right away but I was in luck! I was thrilled to be assigned all of the Nordic and Baltic countries, as well as France, Belgium, and several international organizations, including the European Union. Over time, my portfolio also included Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Ukraine, and more.

In 2001, I was promoted to EUR Branch Chief, and in 2007, I became Regional Programs Division Chief, overseeing our fully-funded three-week projects for participants from around the world. As EUR branch chief, I was fortunate to travel to many countries in the region, including Austria, Lithuania, Sweden, France, Hungary, Poland and Portugal.

When I became division chief, my brother asked, “Where will they send you now?” To Iraq. Yes, Iraq, in 2007 when the war was still ongoing. A colleague and I traveled there to educate the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, both State and military, about opportunities available through the IVLP and how to determine and nominate the most appropriate participants. It’s a trip I’ll never forget. They persevered under tremendously difficult conditions during a period when we had more International Visitors from Iraq than from any other country in the world.

In 2008, I became Deputy Director of OIV, a position I’ve held now for over a decade. Prior to joining State, I worked on the IVLP at the Graduate School, USDA (now Graduate School USA), one of our core National Program Agencies, for over 14 years. The experience of working on the IVLP in both the public and private sectors provided a valuable perspective on the challenges faced by our various program partners.


What did you enjoy most about working on exchange programs?

The people and International Visitors—they are among the most fascinating people in the world; Barbara Walters should check them out! Also, my colleagues at State, as well as those in the private sector. Their passion and dedication to this program, and to the power of exchanges in general, is inspiring.

The second thing I enjoyed most is making a direct and positive impact in the world. The results are clear: we have countless stories of how this program inspires participants to take action in their own communities, to improve lives, create new businesses, develop economies, establish free and fair elections, run for office, draft new legislation, start volunteer programs, protect the environment, stand up for human rights and for diversity – including LGBTI and persons with disabilities – ultimately to help create a more peaceful and prosperous world.. That’s a lofty goal and that’s exactly what the IVLP does each and every day.

I love listening to Americans talk about the impact of the IVLP domestically – the opportunity to learn about the world from these international leaders, to see things from a different perspective, to discover our commonalities, to share best practices and sometimes try out a new way of addressing a challenge. Simply put, the IVLP changes lives for the better.

Carol (left) poses with Dr. Jill Biden, former Second Lady of the United States (center) and Jena Melançon, Founder and Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Diplomacy Council, at the 2015 National Meeting.


What is your favorite memory of the Global Ties Network?

Visiting the staff of Community-Based Members (CBMs), volunteers, and resources in their home communities. I think of the CBMs as the heart and soul of this program. They are the ones who ensure that the International Visitors experience an unfiltered America and meet with people who represent the broad diversity of our country. They give the program authenticity, credibility, and warmth.

I first remember speaking at a volunteer appreciation meeting of the Springfield, IL-based CBM back in the late 1980s. I was moved by the gratitude everyone showed me for sending International Visitors their way. I was there to thank them for donating their time and sharing their expertise, but they kept thanking me!

A few years ago when OIV leadership was making decisions on travel funds, I suggested that we in the front office spend more money visiting CBMs across the country rather than on international travel. The significant increase in our leadership’s domestic travel has provided a tremendous opportunity to connect with, to hear challenges and successes, and importantly, to thank the citizens all across this country who host International Visitors in their communities, places of work and worship, and in their homes. In just the last 2-3 years, I visited 15 CBMs across the U.S. It’s been wonderful to hear directly from all of them and their local resources about the complexities and rewards of the IVLP domestically.


What will you miss about the U.S. Department of State and OIV?

Again, the people. I am so fortunate to have had a fruitful career alongside such dedicated professionals, people who are exceptionally capable, intelligent, humble, and extraordinarily caring. The work of exchange programs, in both the public and private sectors, attracts people who care about the U.S. and the world, who are optimistic and giving. My colleagues are generous in spirit and deed, and represent the best of humanity.


What are your hopes for the future of U.S. Government exchange programs?

I would love to see U.S. Government exchange programs grow each year, along with sufficient internal staffing and funds to adequately support our partners, because these programs directly serve U.S. foreign policy goals and the American people.

For the IVLP specifically, I would love to see the program further explore ways to deepen and expand long-term ties with Americans. Often, the strongest relationships develop among participants who spend two or three weeks traveling together, more so than with an American with whom they may spend just a few hours. It would be great to figure out funding and a fair selection process for American professionals with a similar profile as the international participants who can travel with an IVLP group for the entire project – not as an expert or liaison, but as an equal participant. I’m sure many professional resources around the country would be excellent candidates for this opportunity. Such a shared IVLP experience would help create strong professional ties and friendships that last a lifetime.


“Carol will be remembered as the Bureau’s ‘Encyclopedia IVLP’. Over the years, she has turned ideas into programs, solved problems big and small, and served as an articulate and passionate advocate for IVLP and ECA exchanges. She has always been a kind colleague and patient teacher, so we are well poised to live up to her high standards. We wish her the very best on her new adventure.”

Chris Miner, Managing Director for Professional and Cultural Exchanges at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)

“There is no one who embodies the International Visitor Leadership Program like Carol Grabauskas. Her long-time dedication to the IVLP has shown through her smile in greeting visitors and Community-Based Members. I always think of Carol when I hear someone malign federal employees as unimaginative or lazy, because one day in her shoes would show them the hardest working, most creative, most dedicated employee any boss could possibly desire. I wish Carol the absolute best in her retirement! No one deserves it more.”

Karen de Bartolomé, Executive Director of WorldDenver

“As a member of the Global Ties Network for over 20 years, I have always been comforted to know that Carol is working and fighting for every single one of us. Her knowledge and passion will be missed.”

Carina Black, Executive Director of the Northern Nevada International Center