Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange

The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange (WCTE) was a reciprocal exchange program for integration practitioners and leaders from the United States and Germany who work to integrate refugees and immigrants into their local communities. The program brought together over 125 individuals from 27 communities to share best practices and innovative approaches to integration initiatives at the local level.

The WCTE program consisted of in-person visits in the U.S. and Germany, as well as structured online interaction, with the goals of:

  • Creating and strengthening the “welcoming infrastructures” in these communities, including a productive dialogue between local residents and newcomers
  • Collectively finding innovative solutions to the challenges of unexpected influxes of migrants to communities in the U.S. and Germany
  • Creating a sustainable network of integration practitioners in the U.S. and Germany who can learn from and offer support to one another
  • Supporting local welcoming innovation in a context of constrained federal support

The WCTE program was administered by Cultural Vistas, together with its partners Welcoming America and the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, between 2016-2018. For a examples of program impact, please read the best practices report written by the Heinrich Böll Foundation or listen to firsthand accounts from program alumni here.

Program Details

Given the immigration landscape in both the United States and Germany, WCTE focused on receiving communities: promoting contact between residents and newcomers, communicating the economic and social benefits of a welcoming culture, and cultivating local leaders in the integration space. This included helping people who may have concerns or fears to develop deeper connections with their new neighbors.

WCTE brought together “teams” of integration practitioners from a common community, who were able to work together to improve the integration processes at various levels of their community following their participation.

  • From Germany: five communities of five participants each
  • From the U.S.: four communities of four participants each

A total of four teams from the U.S. and five teams from Germany were selected each year to participate in the program, representing 27 communities total.

WCTE included 10-day visits to each country during which participating communities were involved in meetings with leaders in the field of immigrant integration, meeting with refugees, drafting action plans, and learning about local and national immigration policies. In addition to the participating communities, the capital cities of both countries were visited to facilitate high-level meetings with government and NGO representatives

Costs and Logistics

There was no financial cost to participate in the exchange. The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange provided roundtrip transatlantic flight, accommodation and transportation, health/accident insurance during travel, and per diem for basic expenses like food while abroad. Participants gained professional contacts, trainings, and new ideas that can benefit their communities.


For Participating Communities

  1. Population
    The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange is open to any city with at least 100,000 residents. Smaller cities/counties may also apply as a consortium if there are clear geographic reasons for doing so. Applications from cities that are part of Welcoming America’s Welcoming City and County Network are given special consideration (U.S. applicants).
  2. Compelling Responses to Challenges
    The exchange seeks to identify communities that have provided compelling responses to challenges integrating immigrants and refugees. It also aims to incorporate communities that are working to include a diverse array of immigrants – across different countries of origin, immigration categories, and economic statuses, among others. Communities that have experience with responding to unexpected arrivals (such as unaccompanied children) are also of special interest.
  3. Eagerness to engage the local community
    The program is especially interested in efforts to engage receiving communities in addressing the local population’s fears and concerns about newcomers.
  4. Existing collaboration
    There should be evidence of existing local welcoming collaborations that will be strengthened by participating in the exchange, including the involvement of local government. Other creative partnerships such as with businesses, schools, ethnic-based organizations the faith community or others in service to integration are encouraged.
  5. Enthusiasm for creating a welcoming climate
    All participants should demonstrate an enthusiasm for inclusion work, a willingness to explore new strategies, and a desire to strengthen welcoming efforts.
  6. Ability and willingness to learn, share, and implement new ideas
    Communities should demonstrate that they are ready to actively contribute to the exchange, that they have sufficient institutional support to implement the lessons from the exchange, and that they will share their learning with their broader community.

Application Information

The application process for the WCTE program has concluded. Communities were selected to participate based on the following criteria:

  • Each participating ‘team’ should collectively represent its local community’s integration system. The team members should have familiarity with the community’s welcoming and immigrant integration work, reflect diverse demographic backgrounds, work across different sectors, and have unique perspectives to share on immigrant and refugee integration. At least one team member must be a representative from local government. Other team members may represent immigrant-led organizations, faith communities, businesses employing significant numbers of immigrants, as well as refugee resettlement, philanthropic, and advocacy organizations, or others involved in local integration initiatives. Each team member should represent a different organization or integration service; only in rare and justifiable cases can a team include more than one individual from the same organization.
  • Each community has one Team Leader, who acts as the main point of contact with the administering organizations, and submits the initial application request.
  • Team members will collaborate to host in-person, local site visits for exchange participants from the other country, demonstrating the integration successes and challenges in their community for 2-3 days. Not every community will be able to host a group from the other country, but should be prepared to do so.
  • Participants will communicate via an online forum throughout the year to provide updates to other U.S. and German delegations on their work.
  • Participants will host at least one presentation for their peers in their home community on lessons learned, following their experience abroad.
  • Each team will write and publish an action plan, outlining steps to improve the integration of immigrants in their community, based on the lessons learned and ideas discussed during the exchange. Part of the action plan will include local events that bring together locals and newcomers to foster understanding and communication.

In addition, each participant is required to give at least one presentation on the content of the action plan for colleagues in their home communities, after returning from the exchange. As the program aims to improve perception of the integration of migrants among the larger public in each community, participants are expected to contribute to this impact by amplifying the outcomes of the exchange in their community. Limited funding will be available to participants to support these activities following the exchange.

The Experience

Inside the 2018 WCTE Experience

The following communities are participating in the 2018 WCTE program.

WCTE 2018 Communities

In the United States:
Anchorage (Alaska)
Boston (Massachusetts)
Charlotte (North Carolina)
Montgomery County (Maryland)
In Germany:
Landkreis Bautzen (Saxony)
Frankfurt am Main (Hessen)
Iserlohn (North Rhine-Westphalia)
Landkreis Teltow-Fläming (Brandenburg)


A Look Back at the 2017 WCTE Program

The following communities participated in the 2017 WCTE program.

In the United States:
Detroit, MI
Los Angeles, CA
Nashville, TN
Salt Lake City, UT
In Germany:
Kreis Düren

Each of the participating communities developed an Action Plan to implement new ideas and initiatives inspired by the exchange in their local community. You can read summaries of the 2017 participating communities here.

Results from the Inaugural Year of WCTE

The inaugural year of the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange kicked off in April 2016 as 24 German officials from the cities of Mannheim and Stuttgart, both located in the southwest German state of Baden-Württemberg, as well as Dresden and the rural villages of Altenberg and Pirna, located in former East Germany, visited the United States for a 12-day, multi-city tour to gain American perspectives on refugee reception and integration.

The visit began in Atlanta as the entire group took part in the Welcoming Interactive Conference, before breaking up into smaller cohorts to visit the four 2016 WCTE communities before wrapping up in Washington, D.C.

It showcased a wide-ranging look into how American cities approach integration through a series of site visits and meetings with local governments, resettlement agencies, interfaith groups, local schools and employers, among others.

The second leg of the program took part in September as a 16-member U.S. delegation, with representatives from Atlanta and Clarkston, Georgia; Boise, Idaho; Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo, Ohio; and St. Louis, Missouri, visited their German partner communities over the course of nine days. There, the group examined how local governments and organizations have responded to the more than one million displaced individuals who arrived in the country over the past year.

They also explored a myriad of topics including local approaches to housing; school and workforce integration; the accommodation of vulnerable populations; the role of interfaith organizations and existing immigrant organizations in connecting with refugees; and opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.

Participants also discussed the anti-immigrant sentiment that has emerged across communities in both countries, and work together to evaluate and identify effective responses.

The 2016 program culminated as all 40 WCTE participants came together to speak about their experiences and share lessons learned during the two-day Transatlantic Symposium on Innovative Approaches to Integration in Berlin, hosted by the Embassy of the United States in Berlin and U.S. Ambassador to Germany John B. Emerson.

2016 WCTE Participating Communities

United States
Atlanta and Clarkston, Georgia
Boise, Idaho
Columbus, Dayton, and Lucas County, Ohio
St. Louis, Missouri
Essen, North Rhine-Westfalia
Dresden, Saxony
Landkreis Sächsische Schweiz‐Osterzgebirge
Mannheim, Baden‐Württemberg
Stuttgart, Baden‐Württemberg


The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange is organized and administered by Cultural Vistas, together with its partners Welcoming America and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America. The program is funded by the Transatlantic Program of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany through funds of the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi), as well as by the U.S. Department of State, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and BMW Group.

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