By Baylee Easterday, Program Associate, World Learning
A bright green flier distributed at the Pensacola Diplomacy Begins Here Summit and by Global Ties U.S.’ email in September 2022 asked its reader, “Are you curious about the work of a National Program Agency (NPA)? Want to visit Washington, DC?” Those who read further learned that World Learning would host our first in-person staff exchange for Community-Based Member (CBM) partners of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) since the start of the pandemic.
Beyond observing the mechanics of DC IVLP programming, this exchange is an opportunity for CBMs to engage in informational interviews with DC-based partners, including representatives from World Learning, the U.S. Department of State and other U.S. Government agencies, and colleagues at Global Ties U.S. These kind of staff exchanges also help to jumpstart interpersonal relationships, especially for those who joined the Network during the pandemic. As our Network knows so well, person-to-person connection is paramount to the work we do.
We received several enthusiastic and detailed applications from CBMs around the country, which made the decision process difficult, but eventually two applications stood out for their level of detail: Alaina King from Global Ties Sacramento and Paige Holtsclaw from Global Ties Arizona. Paige and Alaina both made it clear why they hoped to participate on this exchange, and how they planned to incorporate their newfound knowledge into the day-to-day operations of their CBMs. Further, their applications mentioned plans to share their takeaways throughout the Network, expanding the potential impact of the staff exchange. While relatively new to the Network, both programmers are rising stars in the world of the International Visitor Leadership Program. We extended the invitation to bring them to DC, and they accepted.
It had been several years since World Learning had hosted an in-person staff exchange. This gap gave us the opportunity to re-examine why we were hosting these exchanges in the first place. Similar to Global Ties U.S. Summits, having CBM staff in DC is a great opportunity for them to meet and learn about the resources that IVLP participants access in DC, giving them a greater understanding of programs as a whole and the work we do as an NPA. By attending a program opening, a federalism briefing, and a U.S. Department of State briefing, they gained practical knowledge about DC programming that will help to ensure synergy between NPAs and CBMs.
Paige and Alaina met with World Learning IVLP staff, representatives who work on other exchange programs at World Learning, and two program officers from the Office of International Visitors at the U.S. Department of State. They attended meetings at OpenGovHub, which is a social, mission-oriented shared workspace, the Global Ties U.S. office, and the Pentagon, where they met with the Department of Defense IVLP liaison. Nearly every meeting went overtime, as all involved parties had numerous thoughtful and practical questions. These meetings offered a unique space to brainstorm how to work together better in the future. We were able to have candid conversations about how to make each other’s lives easier, and to share tips and tricks for making the best possible exchange for our international visitors.
One of the most impactful moments of the exchange was when Paige and Alaina sat down with a program officer from the Office of International Visitors whose first question was an earnest, “How is morale?… Do you hate us?” Alaina and Paige made it immediately clear that was not the case. However, this interaction encapsulates the state of the IVLP Network, as everyone attempts to rebuild. The year 2022 was difficult, filled with COVID cases, efforts to rekindle community relationships and onboard new staff, and goodbyes to colleagues who had spent years in the Network. As we have persevered through these new challenges, we all had to rely on and ask more of our colleagues throughout the Network than ever before. Bringing Alaina and Paige to DC served as a reminder that we are all on the same team. The return to in-person programming has added additional strain for everyone, but at the end of the day we are all passionate about intercultural exchange, we are all committed to building quality programs from start to finish, and we are all doing our very best to meet the challenges of this unique time.
This NPA/CBM staff exchange was a great professional development opportunity not just for our CBM colleagues, but for the World Learning staff. In a Network devoted to people-to-people exchanges, it is important to remind ourselves that we too can benefit from exchanges, as we redefine our shared goals and values in the wake of the pandemic.
We look forward to completing the exchange by sending a World Learning staff member to visit our CBM colleagues, and to receiving another CBM programmer in 2023!