On March 16-19, 2022, Meridian joined fellow peers and organization members at the 2022 Global Ties U.S. National Meeting: Moving Exchange Forward. Over 400 attendees gathered to discuss strategies and resources to navigate programming, to learn about current events and trends affecting the United States and its foreign policy and to strengthen connections among those involved in international exchanges.
As one of eight National Programming Agencies for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Meridian maintains a vital role both leading and participating in these conversations. Several staff attended the meeting both in-person and virtually, while also curating two panels focused on “Building a Panel: Creating Engaging and Diverse Discussions” and “Putting the Exchange Back in Exchanges”.
After nearly two years of tapping into virtual exchanges, it was refreshing to rediscover the power of face-to-face interaction. The entire IVLP ecosystem, including the Department of State, National Programming Agencies, Community Based Members and exchange alumni were able to make connections, exchange ideas with familiar and new faces.
Here are Meridian’s top takeaways from the event:
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXCHANGES IN A TIME OF DISORDER.
The war in Ukraine was in front of everyone’s minds and continually acknowledged throughout the National Meeting. As Toni Carr of Global Ties Arkansas noted in the opening plenary, many in Global Ties U.S. network have worked with Ukrainian participants through past IVLP projects and consider them dear friends. Through the news and alumni connections, it’s shocking to see and hear the atrocities happening in Eastern Europe. In addition, COVID-19 is still a great concern, especially with the surge of cases in Eastern Asia and Europe. It is vital that international exchange programs continue to promote peace, connection and cooperation to combat these global challenges.
EXPANDING NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN PRIORITIES
The National Meeting covered a large range of U.S. foreign policy concerns and objectives through its panels and plenary sessions. Strong emphasis was placed on promoting global transparency and accountability against corruption, cyber-security threats and democratic decline. There was also examination of the potential shocks of the Russo-Ukrainian War such as the refugee crisis, food and gas shortages and trade blockages. In light of these difficulties, the U.S. advocates for further diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility internationally through its programs and government and reaffirms its commitment to these issues
THE RETURN TO IN-PERSON PROGRAMMING
As attendees met in-person for the National Meeting, many participating organizations including Meridian were preparing for in-person IVLP projects that started in March. Some colleagues were not only organizing in-person programs for the first time, but also had to consider the logistics of COVID-19 testing and PPE supplies. Breakout sessions covered situations such as supporting participants who test positive for coronavirus, maintaining self-care while handling an increase workload and finding local resources for new emerging topics.
FLEXIBILITY AND VERSATILITY IN VIRTUAL PROGRAMMING
Although in-person programming is resuming quickly, it remains critical to develop and maintain the virtual programming skills accumulated over the past two years. Attendees discussed reacting to no-shows from speakers, managing audio issues with interpreters and moderating Zoom panels with large audiences. Virtual programming provided new opportunities and strategies to promote international exchanges and there was excitement over the potential opportunities in hybrid programming and beyond. Some examples include creating podcasts to share IVLP stories and analyzing data to show the impact of IVLP programs.
GROWING ALUMNI ENAGEMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Despite global challenges and concerns, international exchanges have branched out into new ways to engage with our IVLP alumni. For example, Deputy Director Alistair Baskey of the Department of State’s Office of International Visitors shared the launching of the IVLP Impact Awards, which gives grants to alumni to conduct community action projects in their home countries. The diversity of projects ranges from teaching students about detecting fake news in Albania to raising awareness of sustainable clean energy resources in Bolivia. Dina Suggs and Linda Piccirilli from the Office of International Visitors also shared how American students have directly learned from IVLP alumni about subjects such as civic engagement and entrepreneurship through the IVLP Alumni in the Classroom Initiative.
This post was written by Elaina Kim, Program Associate in Meridian’s Center for Global Leadership.