Ten years ago, young emerging European leaders from across the continent crossed the Atlantic to participate in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a professional exchange program designed to foster lasting relationships and strengthen U.S. engagement around the world. A decade later, these influential European leaders now have among their ranks Members of Parliament, editors-in-chiefs of leading newspapers, and high-ranking policy advisors. And still, they find time each year to come together to build upon the IVLP experience that initially brought them together.
Richard Stephenson of the United Kingdom said that when the group finished their 2004 exchange program, they knew that the experience was something they couldn’t walk away from — and that the occasional email also wouldn’t be enough. “We realized this was something special,” Stephenson said.
So this October, like every year since 2004, the group reunited. They typically get together in a different European city, but to honor the 10-year anniversary, they decided on a United States reunion. Eleven of the original 15 travelers came to Washington D.C. this month to recreate the exchange experience. During their four-day reunion in Washington, the group discussed the impact of their program with Members of Congress, participated in a forum on European Perspectives on the Transatlantic Relationship, met with other professional counterparts, and reconnected with some of the original host organizers and “citizen diplomats” they met 10 years ago.
Representing a wide range of public and private sector professions, these dynamic participants originally met with their U.S. counterparts to better understand U.S. foreign and domestic policy on issues like homeland security, trade and economic development, immigration and integration, and counterterrorism. Through their meetings, the group gained exposure to the United States, which informed their perspectives on America and the transatlantic relationship.
For this reason, Rachel McEwen, also of the United Kingdom, said that the group strives to keep to the spirit of the original IVLP by scheduling meetings and events throughout their reunions, as well as cultural activities. The group believes that the formula was the reason they became friends in the first place, and the reason they look forward to next year.
For those of us who implement the IVLP, this reunion reinforces that the bonds the program creates are an important component of foreign policy. The original IVLP was not just an opportunity to travel to the United States, it was an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of America and different perspectives on key foreign policy concerns; and it was an opportunity to establish ongoing relationships with American counterparts and with each other. For the United States, the experience was an opportunity to influence and inform the perspectives not only key, young European experts, but also those of their colleagues, professional audiences, friends and family in their home countries. In this way, professional exchanges are key to the success of American initiatives throughout the world. America’s investment in exchange programs like the IVLP contribute ultimately to furthering U.S. influence globally and to efforts to address shared regional and global challenges.
About the Author: Charlotte Titus serves as the Branch Chief for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Office of International Visitors in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Follow @ECAatState on Twitter.