In more than a half century of our work, we’ve heard countless success stories from American and international alumni. Those who have taken part in our exchange programs have gone on to successfully leverage their newly-honed skills to pursue careers in everything from architecture and vertical farming to resettling refugees.
For some, sharing the impact of their experiences has become a personal crusade. These special individuals help ensure the sustainability of our work.
This spirit of giving back is best exemplified by Bruce Marsh, a 1995-96 alumnus of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, who is the recipient of Cultural Vistas’ inaugural Alumni Impact award.
Bruce rarely misses an opportunity to advocate for and demonstrate his belief in the immense value of international exchanges. In addition to advocating on the Hill, Bruce has played an active role in preparing new CBYX participants for their year in Germany.
So what’s inspired Bruce to stay involved over 20 years since his program ended? We caught up with the CBYX alumnus to find out.
Gaining a Global Perspective
After graduating from Wake Forest University, Bruce was faced with the classic young adult dilemma of what to do with his life. He had minored in German and always wanted to study abroad, so spending a year in Germany through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals seemed like a no-brainer. But he didn’t know the program would be life-changing.
He spent the year of 1995-1996 in the city of Bremen in northwestern Germany and was immediately struck by the diversity around him.
“The memories I hold onto the most are just the incredible exposure to international students,” said Bruce. “It was five or six years after the Cold War and there were several Russian students and 20 students from Kazakhstan.”
By living with a host family and spending time with students from around the globe, Bruce was exposed to new perspectives. Bruce’s host mom, Inge Schoettl, took him across Germany—including to the former communist part of the country. This would help form his idea of what it means to be a global citizen.
“Living abroad gets you exposed to other points of view,” Bruce said about his CBYX experience. “For Americans, it’s so easy to not get exposure to foreign cultures. I think if a lot more Americans could have exposure to cultural and educational exchanges I think there would be less polarization.”
Bruce made an impression on his host mother, too. “From the first second, I knew I’d chosen the right person,” said Inge. “Handsome, friendly, nice. I felt like he was my own son.”
A Lasting Impact
Bruce’s time in Germany informed both his career and personal interests moving forward. Most obviously, it inspired him pursue a master’s degree in international economics and foreign policy. But more importantly, it was there that he was first exposed to sustainability practices.
“Back then, Germany was already 20 years ahead,” he said. “They had a big compost program and biking and great transit systems. That became hugely important to me, and I continue to try to be a good environmental steward.”
This experience would help guide Bruce to his current career at DHL, where he currently works on helping the company respect its pledge to transition to zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Since returning from Germany, Bruce has also stayed in contact with his host mom. She even attended his wedding in Sicily. “I hosted for over 25 years,” said Inge. “I can say that Bruce was one of the ones I loved the most.”
Because of the impact living abroad had on his life, Bruce was inspired to stay involved. He started giving back soon after returning from Germany, when he helped develop the structure of CBYX’s Congressional Internship Program (CIP),now in its 18th year. As a Hill staffer during the first year of the program, he helped mentor Germans who were interning in Congress and established events to go along with the internship.
“It’s great to see [CIP] thriving,” said Bruce. He points to how the program is beneficial for both sides: it helps Germans overcome stereotypes of American politics and exposes Hill staffers to international perspectives.
After his time on the Hill, Bruce stayed involved by appearing on CBYX panel discussions. He has also has helped conduct numerous initial interviews for CBYX applicants. Most importantly for the future of CBYX, he has continued to serve as a tireless advocate for the longstanding transatlantic exchange program to Congress amid tightening budgets.
“So often funding of exchange programs can be the victim of budget cuts,” said Bruce. “I think there needs to be more of a voice and more advocates for international exchange.”
Bruce’s host mom Inge isn’t surprised he’s being honored with the Cultural Vistas Alumni Impact Award.
“I think that he is the best person to get this award,” she said, reflecting on Bruce’s kind nature and how he’s always willing to offer a helping hand. She said she’d heard through the grapevine about his continued work for the CBYX program.
For Bruce, he said he was surprised, but honored, to be Cultural Vistas’ first Alumni Impact awardee.
“I think I want to pay it forward. I just hope that we continue to build on Cultural Vistas success with its variety of programs,” he said. “I think in this time when [the U.S.] seems to be closing doors and creating barriers, this is one area where we can actually work in reverse.”
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