Leorah McGinnis is a 2014 alumni of the U.S. Congress – Republic of Korea National Assembly Exchange Program, a unique program designed to bring together young professionals from both the U.S. and Korea for a memorable and educational opportunity. Since its inception over 30 years ago, the Exchange has allowed nearly 500 participants to build lasting cross-border relationships and better understand the legislative process, the history of U.S. – Korean relations, and current economic, political, and security aspects of the bilateral relationship. Meridian International Center has had the privilege of implementing this program for nearly 20 years, and has worked to engage a cross-sector cohort of partners that enriched the program experience.
A graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in Zoology, Leorah was one of the more unique participants given her academic interests but at the same time she also was one of the most engaging and active ones. During and after the program she became an example of the ways in which this exchange program expands the participants’ knowledge of international affairs, instills an interest in the bilateral relationship, and creates lasting opportunities for engagement with fellow program participants from both U.S. and Korea. Leorah, however, took advantage not only of the opportunities offered by the program itself but also registered with the State Department Alumni Program and discovered new long-term engagement prospects to connect with other U.S. and international alumni of other State Department’s exchange programs. Nominated to participate in the exchange program by Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Leorah was invited earlier this year to attend the Alumni TIES Seminar in Palo Alto, CA. Below, in her own words (and photos) is her experience at this unique event. “I had the immense privilege to attend the State Department’s Alumni TIES Seminar in Palo Alto, CA in September 2016. In 2014 I was one of 10 American delegates, all in our 20s, who were chosen to participate in the U.S. Congress – Republic of Korea National Assembly Exchange Program. The exchange, organized by Meridian International Center, was funded by the U.S. Department of State and it was the experience of a lifetime. After that exchange, I officially became part of the State Department’s exchange alumni network, which is how I found out about and was eligible for the Alumni TIES event.
The theme of the seminar was “Intersections: Climate Change, Global Affairs, and the Digital Age.” There were 40 of us present, representing a wide array of exchange programs and current careers. We were at all different stages of life with different backgrounds and fields of work or study, but commonly focused on climate change. I met such wonderful, accomplished people, and look forward to keeping in touch with everyone both professionally and socially in many cases. At times I felt a bit powerless at the scope of the global problems facing, and I was definitely one of the least accomplished people in attendance – a complete novice and a young professional just starting out and not even sure what I want to do. Even some of the current undergrads seemed more knowledgeable than I! But I think that’s why it was so important for me to attend; by going in with so little, I left with so much! I was so inspired by everyone, I learned so much, I made some wonderful connections, and I am motivated to seek out opportunities to make change and learn relevant skills.
Throughout the seminar we heard talks and panels on a wide variety of topics from the plethora of skill sets represented. Just a sampling of our sessions included:
- Climate Change Communication
- Digital Tools
- A Human-Rights Based Approach to Climate Change
- Energy Transformation
- GIS and Remote Sensing
- U.S. Strategies
- International Climate Change Initiatives
- Site visits: OpenIDEO, Cleantech Open, Solar City
There were experts in the room on every topic and more! There was also an opportunity to apply for a grant to bring a Big Idea to life in our own communities. This was the first TIES seminar open to American alumni, but these seminars have been help on different topics all over the world, and some of the projects funded through these grants are starting to move forward. We had plenty of fun throughout the four days, too. We relaxed by the pool, I went out to dinner with groups each night. We had milkshakes. We played ridiculous games. Every evening was filled with laughter. Overall, it was a priceless experience, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend all of the wonderful opportunities that led me there.”