In This World and Beyond, The #ExchangeEffect is Timeless

Members of Cultural Vistas’ International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) staff joined hundreds of other exchange professionals at the annual Global Ties U.S. National Meeting in January as they explored this year’s event theme: The Exchange Effect: Growing Impact at Home and Abroad.

Beginning with a discussion on the prospect of future exchange programs being literally out of this world, the event covered a broad array of topics which ultimately highlighted how the effects of exchanges are not limited by time or place. Below are some of our favorite highlights from the event.

A plastic display forming an archway lists "The Exchange Effect" conference schedule and speakers.

This year’s Global Ties U.S. National Meeting took place in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: A.E. Landes Photography

Beyond Global: International Exchange Meets Interstellar Diplomacy

The exchange of information in space was a much-anticipated topic which kicked off the main portion of the national meeting with a keystone speech by Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., a former NASA Administrator and Major General of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Former NASA administrator and Major General of the U.S. Marine Corps Charles Frank Bolden, Jr. gave the keynote speech on the exchange of information in space. Photo credit: A.E. Landes Photography

Bolden spoke specifically about how the nature of exchanging information in space, or in the science field in general, can help lay a path toward international cooperation between countries which would otherwise find it difficult to see eye-to-eye.

During the presentation, Bolden described how being able to side-step the geopolitical realities of Earth has enabled him and four other U.S. scientists and engineers to successfully engage with foreign citizens and governments to develop partnerships and improve collaboration through the U.S. Science Envoy Program of the U.S. Department of State.

Bolden’s speech not only highlighted the limitations of the adjective “international” in the context of exchange programs—his commentary on the ability of space and science to break down political barriers also provided insights for exchange programmers trying to do the same on our home planet.

Cross-Border Exchanges Build Walls around Disinformation

Another highly topical session on “Disinformation and the Media” highlighted the potential of international exchange programs to combat the spread of false facts and mistruths in journalism.

During this session, Jennifer Gregg, Senior Program Officer at FHI 360, shared some practical programming tips for those working on combating disinformation projects. Key takeaways included the importance of identifying what is editorial versus factual, the strong impression left on foreign participants by American approaches to fact-checking, as well as the critical importance of emphasizing citizen digital literacy.

Particularly relevant to this last point were the words of speaker Rick Ruth, Senior Advisor for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State—who said that the rise in disinformation was “not driven by technology, but driven by the use of technology.”

These words provided reassurance to exchange professionals working on projects on combating disinformation. The capabilities of exchange programs to improve digital literacy and influence approaches to fact-checking are much greater than their capabilities to influence the nature of technology or journalism itself.

Young American and German journalists gather for a photo outside of the The New York Times offices while in New York City during Cultural Vistas’ new Journalism in the Era of Disinformation Fellowship.

The Timelessness of the Exchange Effect

At the core of most exchange programs is the belief that the transition from program participant to program alumni is a significant one that can help an individual reach new heights.

A panel on “Recruiting from Relevant Alumni Exchange Networks” explored the topic of alumni networks and provided tips for how exchange professionals can seek to utilize program alumni to maximize the exchange effect of new programs.

Put another way, the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting brought the idea of the “exchange effect” full circle. Not only did the event address future prospects of interplanetary exchange, present-day issues surrounding disinformation in the media, and past programming successes—it also identified how the exchange effect can influence both the present and future by utilizing its successful past.

Attendees also heard from people like Pardeep Singh Kaleka (right), who lost his father in a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple, and Arno Michealis (left), a former white supremacist who helped start the gang that produced the shooter. Recognized for their work at the grassroots level, Pardeep and Arno’s story exemplifies the idea that forgiveness and open-mindedness can lead to cooperation in the most unlikely of places. Photo credit: A.E. Landes Photography

Attendees heard from people like Biblab Ketan Paul, a 2004 IVLP alumnus who now serves as Director of a social enterprise working to eradicate poverty through clean water technologies. Thanks to an exchange of knowledge on open source technology, Biblab is able to work on sharing his innovative knowledge outside of his home in India, beginning with several countries in South Asia and Africa. Another keynote speaker, Mine Atli, a 2017 IVLP participant, was the recipient of the 2019 IVLP Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change for her work to combat domestic violence against women in Cyprus.

What all these stories shared, and what characterizes many other exchange successes, is the ability and potential of program beneficiaries to further exchange their knowledge with others. With every subsequent exchange, more knowledge and understanding lies in the hands of more people—regardless of where this knowledge originated.  Just as Biblab and Mine’s exchange experiences helped increase their influence abroad, sharing this knowledge with others helps enable more people to follow their lead.

Indeed, the context of the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting is an exchange of its own. And with so many significant discussions and heartwarming stories having taken place, we have no doubt that the shared knowledge from the event will continue to yield timeless benefits, however big or small—at home in our world, or maybe even beyond.