A Year of Connecting and Inspiring People

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A Year of Connecting and Inspiring People

Here at the State Department, we are wrapping up another successful year of sharing our culture and American values with the world. Sometimes the impacts are immediately felt, sometimes they show up years or even decades down the road. The bottom line is that they are definitely happening.

One of the priority actions for diplomacy in the recently released National Security Strategy is the continuation of cultural, educational, and people-to-people exchanges. These exchanges create the networks of current and future political, civil society, and educational leaders who will extend a free and prosperous world. Here are some of the best examples of how State Department exchange programs made the world a better place in 2017:

International Women of Courage 

For over a decade, the State Department has brought courageous women to the United States to meet with Americans in cities across the country after receiving their award in Washington. One of those amazing women is Susana Trimarco de Veron of Argentina.  Since she received the International Women of Courage Award and travelled to the United States 10 years ago, she has returned home to start a foundation that fights violence in all its forms, focused on trafficking-in-persons.

Gilman Scholars in New Zealand 

The Gilman Scholarship has enabled nearly 25,000 economically disadvantaged American students to study or intern abroad. Other governments are seeing the value of supporting this amazing program, and this year Education New Zealand commit to providing $50,000 over the next two years, to support Gilman Scholars to study and intern for academic credit in New Zealand. Americans like Trevor are already seeing the doors that can open from international education.

New and Renewed Cultural Property Agreements 

One of the ways that the State Department combats illicit trafficking of archaeological objects and support sustainable protection of heritage sites is through cultural property agreements. Two of these that we wrote about this year were signed with Mali and Peru, and more will follow in 2018. When we open conversations about our history and heritage, we gain a better respect for one another.

American Music Abroad: Wordsmith 

Baltimore-based rapper Wordsmith toured Africa last year with the American Music Abroad program, part of American Voices. In the United States, Wordsmith visits grade schools to promote anti-bullying narratives to students, and he continued that message in cities across Africa and the world through virtual programs. In his own words: “Anytime you can use music as your medium, to express yourself, or bridge gaps between cultures where you may not speak the same language, you may not have the same values, music is a common factor in all these things.”

Fulbright Alumni Receive Nobel Prizes 

This year Fulbright Program alumni Dr. Michael Rosbash and Dr. Kip S. Thorne became Nobel Laureates, bringing the total to 59 Fulbrighters who have received this most prestigious of awards. And in other fields, Fulbrighters continue to be instrumental in innovating new technologies and ideas as well. Take as example alumna Jennifer Farrell, one of over 110 exchange alumni who attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India, and founder of @CriticaLinkApp.

Private Sector Exchange Participants at the TCS NYC Marathon 

Private Sector Exchange participants are the largest group of volunteers at the marathon, and many of them also run. Among the marathon runners this year were Laura Helbig, an au pair from Germany, who ran the marathon alongside her host mom, Candice Nielsen from Wisconsin. Laura and Candice ran to raise funds for Kids First Foundation. Laura said raising funds like this in Germany is possible, “but it’s uncommon,” she said. “I like having that spirit here: that people help out. There’s strong community, there’s volunteerism, and donating.”

Hidden No More IVLP 

From around the globe, 48 women leaders traveled to 11 U.S. cities ranging from Syracuse, Washington D.C., and Pensacola in the east to Louisville, Lincoln, and Chicago in the heartland, to Albuquerque, Seattle, and Los Angeles in the West. Liba Wenig Rubenstein, the Senior Vice President of Social Impact at 21st Century Fox, hosted the 48 women at the closing of their three-week International Visitor Exchange Program, inspired by the film Hidden No More. “From my perspective for social impact, this is the epitome of why I do what I do,” Rubenstein said. “It demonstrates the power of storytelling to change people’s lives, and to start conversations that might not otherwise have been had. And it’s just that catalyst for change and for realization that you sometimes need to make progress.”

These are just a few of the ways that State Department exchange programs directly contribute to both America’s prosperity and its security -- one person at a time. We are looking forward to sharing the world and American values with even more participants in 2018.

About the Author: Nathan Arnold serves as Director of Public Affairs in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor’s Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.