Community Impact highlights organizations and people in communities across the U.S. that connect with international visitors, and how those cultural exchanges impact them.
Meridian collaborates with local organizations who host international participants across the U.S. through various exchange programs including the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Exchange programs allow participants to gain a diverse perspective of the country, while local communities are also exposed to people from around the world.
This past November, I attended the Global Ties U.S. triannual summit in Louisville, Kentucky hosted by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana (WAC). During a networking lunch, I connected with representatives from YouthBuild Louisville, the local chapter of an international nonprofit which supports young adults ages 18 through 24 in discovering pathways to education and employment. Students gain knowledge and skills related to construction, nursing, and environmental science, while also earning a high school diploma or GED upon program completion. After a brief conversation, I followed up with Michael Springer, their Leadership Consultant, to discuss the impressions that exchanges have left on his organization and community.
Working with WAC, YouthBuild Louisville has had the opportunity to connect with students and professionals from around the world to engage with the local community and share their stories. Michael was personally moved by an experience with Iraqi students as part of the Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). The exchange participants cooperated with YouthBuild students in an effort to serve the community. Together they first packed lunches and then walked the streets of Louisville, distributing them to the community’s local homeless population. “It was a real big impact to see the looks on [the Iraqi students’] faces…that they were doing something that mattered,” he emphasized. Meridian has implemented the IYLEP for seven years as part of our vision to strengthen relationships and promote international cooperation. The experience empowers these future leaders to create change in their own communities and foster relationships through their increased mutual understanding with U.S. counterparts.
YouthBuild students not only welcome international visitors, but also travel abroad for their own exchanges. Students in the environmental science track learn the basics of agriculture in YouthBuild’s own garden – and abroad. YouthBuild partnered with Antoine Jacobsohn, Director of the Portager du Roi; the royal fruit and vegetable gardens at Versailles to host a group of students for a two-week volunteering internship. “Some of [the students] come from backgrounds that they never would’ve even imagined that they would be in France,” noted Michael. They were able to fund the experience through grassroots fundraising and private donor matching. The unique opportunity allowed them to learn advanced environmental science techniques while developing global leadership skills. Through these encounters, the students of YouthBuild engage both locally and globally, sharing the chance to give back to their community with visitors from aboard while expanding their own horizons.
By partnering with local organizations such as WAC and YouthBuild, Meridian provides international exchange visitors with greater exposure to communities across the U.S. that may not otherwise have access to experiences with international communities. Through collaboration, Meridian creates a more interconnected world that amplifies our capacity to solve global challenges.
Nic Cervantes, Program Officer with Meridian’s Professional Exchanges Division, wrote about how exchange programs help reinforce our mission of being stronger at home when globally engaged.