Thanks to U.S. Citizen Diplomats, Enduring Relationships Are Built Around the World

February 17, 2012

In my new role as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, on Thursday, I had the chance to meet with almost 500 citizen diplomats in attendance at this year's National Council of International Visitors' (NCIV) annual meeting. I thanked them for the role they play in supporting our U.S. foreign policy goals by building trust and respect between the people of the United States and the citizens of the world.

NCIV has a national network of more than 80,000 dedicated volunteers, in over 90 regional chapters. In 2011, the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) brought over 5,000 visitors to the United States on 811 projects from over 170 countries. This would not be possible without the NCIV network of volunteers who open their homes to these international visitors, show them around their communities by taking them to visit cultural venues and to meet with local government representatives and business leaders. The annual meeting is a chance for NCIV members to connect with Department leadership, and for the Department of State to thank volunteers and emphasize the critical nature of their work.

We talked about the front page story in the Washington Post of Vice President Xi's visit to Iowa that very day to reunite with an American family he spent time with 27 years ago, when he was a provincial agricultural official leading a delegation to the state -- that long-ago friendship is still helping to build a better relationship between the United States and China. And it's a perfect way to illustrate how citizen diplomacy works -- which happened to tie in well with the annual meeting's theme: "One Story at a Time: The Impact of Citizen Diplomacy." It captures the essence of international exchange and why we do it.

International visitors come here with a specific focus, but they leave with a deeper and broader understanding of the United States. They also enrich our communities, and open our eyes to new and different human experiences. That is the power of the IVLP.

Although NCIV members do not always see the impact that they have when visitors return home, I have had the opportunity throughout my career as a Foreign Service officer to witness the long-term effects that these exchanges have on the international visitors. Whether in China, Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia or Korea, I still remember those international visitors who went on the IVLP program to the United States. I especially remember how the visitors to the United States returned to their home country with lots of their own stories to tell, an added confidence and a renewed sense of purpose. Those IVLP participants and, many others, frequently move into positions of leadership in their countries, not just in government, but in every field. This, in turn, helps us reach broader networks to better achieve U.S. foreign policy goals.

And with these and other stories, we build robust and effective relationships with leaders around the world -- one story at a time. You can hear directly from our exchange participants on our new stories page.



February 17, 2012

W.W. writes:

...heart, mind and spirit a trinity that may make a nation...

true independent inspiration may generate a country


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