Professionals in our field often talk about the “power of exchanges.” The term is hard to define, but we know it when we see it. A salient example includes witnessing an exchange participant’s “a-ha” moment, seeing their long-standing assumptions challenged. We observe the power of exchanges after an engaging evening with a delegation. Or when a participant emails a program officer to express gratitude for the experience they enjoyed in the United States. It’s like an electric charge.
I felt the charge during a recent visit to Argentina and Uruguay organized by the Georgia Council for International Visitors (GCIV). GCIV, the Argentine American Network for Leadership (REAL); and the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires deserve credit for making this visit memorable and productive.
We went to the South American nation in recognition of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP)’s 75th anniversary, and to acknowledge the Argentine role in making the initiative happen. Franklin Delano Roosevelt committed the U.S. government to invest in people-to-people exchanges which led to the creation of the IVLP in 1940. Being heckled at a conference in the Argentine capital four year earlier helped FDR realize the United States had an image problem, motivating him to address it.
witnessing an exchange participant’s “a-ha” moment, seeing their long-standing assumptions challenged [is one example of the “power of exchanges”]
I was genuinely moved by an etching on the wall (see photo) in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Buenos Aires, where FDR stayed for three days, proclaiming “democracy is still the hope of the world.” Then as now, the U.S. relationship with Argentina is complex. We are grateful to the deputy chief of mission and the political counselor at our embassy for explaining the challenging political and economic environment in which they work. Everyone I spoke to acknowledged the roles IVLP and REAL play in smoothing over our differences. The two diplomats addressed how this 75 year-old initiative advances our bilateral relationship.
The REAL organization gave us the opportunity to talk to its members. They enjoy leadership roles in academia, business, the judiciary, lawmaking, and human rights. This IVLP alumni organization is composed of committees that cover subject matter in 18 fields. Each committee is coordinated by two volunteer alumni, plus members with interests in the areas being covered, including non-alumni.
Though GCIV sponsored the event, dedicated volunteers from that state were joined by their peers from Maine, Oregon, and Florida. Their presence was as enlightening as the briefings we attended and sights we saw in Buenos Aires. Our visit was really a “reverse-IVLP,” that led us to reconsider how we program IVLP visitors. According to Maureen Hurley, of the World Affairs Council of Maine, the visit was a “fantastic opportunity to view the IVLP from the other side of the mirror, and step into a participant’s shoes.”
I genuinely enjoyed Argentina’s version of home hospitality. It’s as good as ours. All of us realize how great an impression this labor-intensive act of kindness makes on a foreign visitor. According to Shell Stuart, Executive Director of GCIV, “our delegation received magnificent home hospitality from Ricardo and Corinne Vanella. Champagne and flowers, followed by an Argentine barbecue (to die for!). We ended the evening releasing “freedom balloons” in the colors of the U.S. and Argentine flags. It was glorious.”
the visit was a “fantastic opportunity to view the IVLP from the other side of the mirror, and step into a participant’s shoes.”
Argentine home hospitality juxtaposed nicely with the meeting with the world famous Colon Theater’s director and talks with Argentine congressmen trying to strengthen ties to the United States. On top of all this, we enjoyed a private tour of the MALBA art museum, and some tango lessons, for which I extend my gratitude to Maureen for the moves she taught me.
I give Shell, with help from Ricardo, a huge amount of credit for her vision and leadership in putting this historic trip together. This was the Georgia Council of International Visitors’ fourth such tour and based on what I saw, they (and she) are unrivaled experts. Shell opens doors that allowed network leaders to interact and find common ground with our international members.
The experience reminded me of transformers, which allow us to use our 110v currency appliances on Argentina’s 220v electric grid (and vice versa). Substitute people for machines, and transformers are a useful metaphor for describing what IVLP and tours like Shell’s can really accomplish.
By Jennifer Clinton, PhD, President, Global Ties U.S. Follow her on Twitter:@CDJclinton