The Importance of International Citizen Exchange

A little over a year ago, I posted a blog titled “Cultural Competence Starts with Cultural Humility.” I discussed how expanding your personal cultural competence or intelligence will increase your ability to adapt to new cultural settings and thrive in culturally diverse situations.  Building on my previous thoughts about increasing your cultural competence, I’d like to suggest that promoting international citizen exchange and diplomacy through global citizen exchange programs (both visiting other countries and encouraging visitors to explore the United States) is critical in increasing the cultural competence of our entire nation.

My Personal Experiences

I have had the personal pleasure and professional development opportunity of attending the annual Global Ties U.S. (GTUS) National Meeting in Washington, D.C. since 2022.   For more than 60 years, GTUS has partnered with the U.S. Department of State to implement the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and several other international exchange and public diplomacy programs. Serving all 50 states, the Global Ties Network of 80+ nonprofit, Community Based Members (CBMs) work in concert with eight National Programming Agencies (NPAs) to host hundreds of visitor groups in our local communities throughout the nation. This structured international exchange platform increases civic engagement, local community pride, cultural awareness, and appreciation of diverse cultural groups. And by facilitating the hosting of thousands of visitors to the U.S. annually, this work showcases true U.S. culture to the rest of the world.

Since my work began with GTUS and the Georgia Council for International Visitors (GCIV), I have personally been able to meet with visiting cohorts from many countries during their respective four-city tours of the U.S.

International Diversity

For example, the most recent IVLP group I met with was a project for Near East and North African visitors studying U.S. Human and Civil Rights Advocacy and Awareness.  This group was comprised of nine visitors from Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, and Saudi Arabia.  Their backgrounds varied from social media/graphic designer to political advisers; and from human rights advocates/lawyers to prison wardens.  They were here to examine and understand the historical context of human rights advocacy in the United States, but each had their own lived experiences with human and civil rights advocacy in their own countries. It was truly a multi-directional exchange of information. My visit with them was an opportunity for ME to expand my knowledge of human rights challenges in their respective countries by hearing unfiltered stories directly from them.

The Impact of International Citizen Exchange

As I contemplate universal human rights, opportunities such as this are immeasurable when considering how the person-to-person exchange of information and ideas can impact one’s visibility of global issues.  In our own country, the legacy and influence of human and civil rights activists on national, state, and local policy is a history that should be shared with others who continue to confront similar and worse challenges abroad.  Structured international citizen exchange programs can not only be a conduit for greater visibility to what has and has not worked domestically and abroad, they serve to connect all of us (citizens of the world) on a personal basis that media and social media will never be able to fully replace.

I encourage you to explore opportunities to participate as hosts and/or speakers for your local CBM and investigate opportunities to expand your global knowledge through international exchange and diplomacy programs.