The Online Journal & Network of ASPA’s
Section for Public Management Practice
American Society for
Strengthening the Global Community through Exchange Programs
By David Simpson
Each year thousands of international visitors travel to and from the United States on exchange programs funded by public and private sources. For the past fifty years, Graduate School USA’s International Institute has administered a diverse array of exchange programs for the U.S. government, foreign governments, non-
Importance of Exchange Programs
Programs that bring international visitors to the United States on professional or cultural exchanges have numerous benefits to a number of stakeholders. First, the international visitors themselves increase their understanding of the U.S. and in the process dispel myths or stereotypes. Visitors create professional and personal contacts that may last a lifetime and begin to see themselves as part of the larger global community. They are also exposed to new ideas or methods of doing things that can be implemented or modified upon their return home. For instance, the National Council for International Visitors recently highlighted the impact Ms. Nargis Ziyavatdinova had in her local community in Termez, Uzbekistan in their December 2011 newsletter. In 2002, Ms. Ziyavadinova participated in the US State Department-
Exchange programs impact not only international visitors, but also U.S. stakeholders who come into contact with the international visitors. U.S. individuals and institutions that host or interact with international visitors are enriched by establishing new contacts, being introduced to a new culture, learning new ideas and becoming part of the global community. Many U.S. citizens lack the resources to travel overseas, and exchange programs bring international visitors to U.S. citizens – opening the door to new cultures, ideas and concepts. U.S. citizens may apply these new skills and concepts to improve their workplace or community and in the process gain a better understanding and appreciation of global affairs. The Congressionally-
Challenges and Suggestions to Improve Exchange Programs
While exchange programs provide many benefits for U.S. citizens and international visitors, they also pose several challenges. This section examines some of those challenges and offers creative solutions for improving exchange programs.
Bringing international visitors to the U.S. is expensive and as a result, the number of visitors participating in exchange programs is limited. To expand exchange programs, collaborative public-
While everyone agrees that face-
At times, international visitors or delegations visiting the U.S. have unrealistic expectations about the program or may be unfamiliar with some laws or cultural norms that are not applicable in their home countries. In addition, U.S. hosts may have preconceived notions about the international visitors or may be unaware of their cultural norms. For instance, international visitors may be unaware that they cannot smoke cigarettes in a government building or U.S. hosts may be unaware that visitors who adhere to Islam may not eat pork. While not all laws or cultural norms can be covered prior to the start of an exchange program, online network sites can be utilized to help prepare exchange program stakeholders. In addition, online contact between the stakeholders prior to the program ensures the program is relevant for all parties and provides a foundation upon which to build.
Online communications allow stakeholders to keep in touch with each other long after the completion of an exchange program. Many exchange stakeholders continue contact with each other via email, social networking sites, Skype, or other technologies. Program exchange stakeholders should be aware and, if needed, educated about available online resources in order to encourage continued communication and collaboration after the completion of an exchange program. In addition, online resources can support program goals and the professional development of exchange stakeholders. Finally, keeping exchange program stakeholders engaged online supports the development of the global community and can be used as a tool to gather data long after the completion of a program.
The background of some visitors or U.S. stakeholders may not be suitable for the goals and expectations of a program. The goals of a program must be clearly defined prior to the recruitment and selection of the international visitors and U.S. stakeholders. In some cases, donors may consider a pre-
While the U.S. is the preferred destination for many international visitors, it is not always the most appropriate destination. For instance, if visitors are introduced to technical equipment that is not available or cannot be procured in their country, the program may not be suitable to meet the visitor’s professional development needs. During the design phase of the program when the goals are being considered, special attention should be given to the applicability of the program to the visitors and their environment.
Broaden U.S. Exchange Opportunities
Many U.S. citizens lack the resources to travel overseas. While bringing foreign visitors to the U.S. contributes to U.S. citizens being more aware and engaged with the global community, it does not enable them to experience a foreign culture first-
While there are donors who support exchange programs, their number can be increased if the value of exchange programs is demonstrated and clearly articulated. This point ties into earlier points about data collection and public-
There are a variety of communication vehicles that educate people about exchange programs – for example, Exchanges Connect, a US State Department international social networking site.4 However, more needs to be done to link people to exchange programs, specifically – their purpose, impact, and why they are important to supporting the global community.
The establishment, cultivation and continued engagement of the global community is essential to meeting current and future global challenges. Food security, climate change and financial markets are not limited to or confined within one country; rather, they are all global issues. To understand, participate in, and make meaningful contributions to addressing these challenges, global citizens must have a solid understanding of the world around them. Understanding and appreciating different cultures and viewpoints is crucial to being an active member of the global community. Exchange programs that bring international visitors to the U.S. to meet face-
Participants on professional exchange programs administered by Graduate School USA meet with public figures like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, and have professional meetings at the US Department of Justice, New York Stock Exchange and United States Capitol.
David Simpson is Director of the Graduate School USA’s International Institute, responsible for business development and management of grants, contracts and cooperative agreements from a diverse array of funders. He has over 16 years experience administering a diverse array of international development projects in the United States and abroad and has also worked for World Learning and Citizens Development Solutions administering capacity building and small business enterprise development projects worldwide. David has in-
International visitors tour Washington, DC while on professional development programs, visiting the Smithsonian National Archives, the Albert Einstein Memorial and the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.