Exchange Matters / January 25, 2021

The Value of Exchanges & Our IVLP Network

By Anne E.Grimes, Director, Office of International Visitors, U.S. Department of State

Happy New Year everyone!  As many of you have probably done  over the holidays, I’ve taken some time to think back over the last year and reflect on the magnitude of what we’ve experienced – personally, professionally,  and globally.   I’m most impressed by the Network’s ability to respond to challenges. This is not only a resilient group, but one united by a shared sense of responsibility to the mission of exchanges, to bridging divides,  and  to opening minds. These values have carried us forward through a challenging year.  

From the first reports of the  COVID-19  virus in your communities, you were up to speed on local protocols, keeping everyone informed and most importantly keeping participants safe.  You worked overtime and triple time to ensure a safe departure for participants back to their home countries, all the while navigating this new reality and unknown. 

As we figured out how to  create offices and classrooms out of our homes, you were also figuring out how to keep your communities engaged and how to continue to reach across oceans to connect with  new International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP)  participants. You showed your communities and members that we  all have much more in common than not  and  that  during a crisis  it is more important than ever to  connect to share ideas and best practices.   We learned so much from talking with participants from their kitchens and living rooms.  A glimpse into real life that brings us even closer – children’s voices, dogs barking, construction, internet outages – all real life stuff!

Your alumni events filled a gap in programming.   Thank you for including me in many of  them!  I enjoyed  participating in my very first podcast with the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire, speaking to communities in Philadelphia, Huntsville, Salt Lake City and Burlington, and donning my  derby hat  at  Pensacola’s virtual Mint Jubilee!   The events across the country  spanned topics from  LGBTQ  rights to the gaming  industry  to  countering disinformation  and  showcased the breadth and depth of  what  we cover  in IVLP, including the most pressing issues  of our time.   

We  encouraged  ourselves  to be bold, and through  great innovation,  determination, and lots and lots of Zoom meetings (!), together we developed a new IVLP virtual program model – and one that  is  really making an impact  and  creating life-changing experiences.   As a  participant from Argentina shared, “My participation in the IVLP has deepened my respect on U.S. ideals, your love of your country and your profound sense of citizenship. I am  thankful for your generosity in sharing your values and approaching to other cultures and people all over the globe to think, discuss together and “grow” as a better world.  At last, we are all citizens of this same great planet.  Thank you for leading this kind of programs.”

We topped all this off  in December  with a final celebration of 80 years of the  IVLP  and the many, many stories of impact and change this program has brought to the world (Read these stories). Symbolic in a way, we have transitioned to a new era and have proven that the IVLP can and will sustain through time. You have demonstrated your ability to adapt to a changing world and  shown our collective readiness  to  not only move  into the next decade  together,  but to thrive in whatever comes our way.

Now we embark on  a new year  together.  As we welcome 2021, the year still brings some uncertainties. Nevertheless,  I am optimistic.  We  will continue  with IVLP virtual projects and  meet  this  shared  challenge  while we  assess the situation for resuming  in-person programming when deemed safe to do so.  Through all of this, we have realized the benefits of connecting virtually and know that we may adopt virtual elements as part of our  traditional in-person projects, as we have seen the  added value in these engagements. 

I do know one thing for sure – whatever the year brings, the IVLP family will embrace it, adapt, and continue to bring  the world together  whether  online or in–person.   As we’ve been repeating over the last half of the year, we will come out of this stronger and more prepared for the future.   I believe we have already. 

And with this new year  we also  mark  the 60th  anniversary of Global Ties U.S.!   What a tremendous milestone to be able to  celebrate  all of the Network’s accomplishments and growth over six decades. I am looking forward to  being a part of the celebrations and amplifying your work throughout the year.   Thank you!