Throughout 2015, the State Department has been celebrating 75 years of building mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange programs. Since the first exchange program participant arrived in December 1940, more than one million people have had life changing experiences. Included in those exchange alumni are 395 former or current heads of state, 77 Nobel laureates, and a remarkable number who have affected real change in their home countries, in both tangible and immeasurable ways. These people-to-people interactions develop friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations. In his video statement to mark the 75th anniversary, Secretary Kerry said: “When I travel, I am constantly running into foreign leaders who are better informed and more helpful, and they tell me so, because of the time they spent in America.”
Today, the State Department implements or monitors exchange programs that include academics, athletes, artists, professionals, youth, interns, au pairs, students, and many more. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs websites, including eca.state.gov and alumni.state.gov, chronicle hundreds of participant stories of impact, from the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participant who leveraged her relationship with Costco to support educational opportunities in Burkina Faso to a TechGirl in Jordan who developed a robotics project to help people with hand disabilities control a computer.
— Evan Ryan (@ECA_AS) December 25, 2015
This year, the State Department took to social media to ask people to finish the phrase “Exchanges Are…” while using the hashtag #ExchangesAre. The respondents shared hundreds of photos and voiced even more opinions, showing both the depth and the impact of exchange programs. As we wrap up this 75th anniversary year, we want to share how the founders of exchange programs defined them, as well as how some of our more recent alumni feel the impact of their programs.
In the 1940s and against the background of World War II, Ben Cherrington, the first Chief of the Division of Cultural Relations at the State Department, wrote how exchanges were originally molded by the political climate: “It was a time when Hitler and Mussolini’s exploitation of education as instruments of national policy was at its height, and our government was determined to demonstrate to the world the basic difference between the methods of democracy and those of a ‘Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda.’”
By the early 1960s, the Fulbright-Hays Act cemented the idea that the U.S. government would continue to conduct exchange programs. As the preamble so eloquently states: “The purpose of this chapter is to enable the Government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange; to strengthen the ties which unite us with other nations by demonstrating the educational and cultural interests, developments, and achievements of the people of the United States and other nations, and the contributions being made toward a peaceful and more fruitful life for people throughout the world; to promote international cooperation for educational and cultural advancement; and thus to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and the other countries of the world.”
Recent exchange program alumni also have lots of thoughts on the power of exchanges. Here is a small sampling:
- “Exchanges are the best opportunities that any student can have to learn and develop his knowledge about other cultures.”
- “Exchanges are opportunities to discover yourself, your culture as well as other people and their cultures.”
- “Exchanges are building cultural bridges in otherwise alienated societies. They open minds to new ideas and hearts to new people.”
- “Exchanges are the best thing that ever happened to me. It transformed me into a peaceful and useful person of society.”
Testemunhos dos participantes do programa #SUSI for Secondary School Educators https://t.co/ZduRDVyMpW #ExchangesAre pic.twitter.com/2nKm12PwEr — U.S. Embassy Lisbon (@USEmbPortugal) December 23, 2015
At present, more than 55,000 people participate in State Department-sponsored exchange programs each year, impacting every U.S. state and almost every country in the world. Americans volunteer more than 600,000 hours annually to support these participants, increasing the reach of exchanges even further. Additionally, every day of the year, participants, alumni, and supporters of these programs are blogging, sharing on social media, and conducting interviews to explain the impact of their exchange experience. People-to-people exchange programs are expanding individual worlds while shrinking the globe. Adding new voices to the conversation is the best way to build on 75 years.
About the Author: Nathan Arnold serves as a Public Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).
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