WASHINGTON, D.C., October 29, 2019—Key voices for international exchange convened in Washington D.C. for a two-day conference led by the Alliance for International Exchanges (“Alliance”) on October 24-25.

Held annually, the meeting brings together several hundred representatives from the U.S. Department of State, exchange organizations, and experts and innovators in policy, advocacy and global education.

Discussions this year centered around urgent challenges and progress on longstanding goals of the industry, such as increasing the emphasis on diversity and achieving sustained longevity through congressional funding for exchange programs.

The Alliance’s Executive Director, Ilir Zherka, provided an overview of the state of affairs in a brief report distributed to all attendees in the conference booklet:

“In 2019, the international community faced some critical challenges, including considerable proposed cuts to funding and visa difficulties. In response, we have made significant efforts to advance people-to-people exchanges, strengthening our collective work.”

Despite the challenges, Zherka pointed to significant accomplishments in 2019 which included a state-level letter writing advocacy campaign to California State Assembly members, the creation of a working group to address alumni engagement, and the development of Emotional First Aid Workshops to discuss strategies for managing mental health and communication with exchange program participants.

A focus on impact

In a keynote lecture delivered on October 24, Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, outlined the ways exchange programs are essential to United States foreign policy and help stimulate the U.S. economy. Assistant Secretary Royce also spoke about the ECA’s continued focus on alignment of exchange visitor programs with the State Department’s Joint Strategic Plan 2018-2022.

International affairs and economic trends paint a high-level view of the impact of exchanges, but the educational benefits also explain why exchanges remain popular.

“Funding for exchanges continues to command strong bipartisan support because legislators recognize the strategic value of building lasting people to people ties between the US and other nations. These programs, both those that are funded and those authorized under the Exchange Visitor program, but privately funded, pay goodwill dividends for decades after individuals participate in any given program and builds a vast reservoir of goodwill for the US as the number of exchange alumni grows over time,” said Keri Dooley, AFS-USA’s Chief Government Relations and Sponsored Programs Officer, who attended the 2019 conference and serves on the Alliance’s Board of Directors.

AFS-USA President Tara Hofmann and Keri Dooley at the 2019 Alliance Conference
AFS-USA President Tara Hofmann and Keri Dooley at the 2019 Alliance Conference.

The Alliance, founded in 1993, serves as the public policy voice of the non-governmental, non-profit organizations that comprise its membership. Its stated mission is to “promotes the growth and impact of exchange programs and the effectiveness of its members.” In practice, the Alliance makes it possible for its members to articulate unified priorities and raise support among both the legislators who fund the program and the citizens who enjoy the direct benefits of those exchanges.

Recognition of industry trends and leaders

Conference sessions, with titles like “The Intersection of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Global Education” and “Global Youth and Student Travel: Overview of Trends and Motivations,” reflected the industry’s emerging trends and ongoing priorities.

Lynette Evans-Tiernan of the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau, U.S. Department of State
Lynette Evans-Tiernan of the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau, U.S. Department of State, delivers a presentation in the “Leveraging Storytelling and Partnerships to Foster Mutual Understanding” session.

In between panels and speeches, the Alliance took time to recognize leaders in the field of international exchange by presenting the McCarry Leadership Award to Tanya Burovtesva (InterExchange), Katie Sanders (Meridian International Center) and Jennifer Chen (World Learning).

In 2018, AFS-USA’s Alumni Relations Manager Mandy Sheriff received the McCarry award for her efforts to reengage the community of AFS-USA alumni living in the United States.

Forecast for 2020 and beyond

In the year ahead, the Alliance seeks to work with the Bureau of Consular Affairs with the hope of visiting U.S. embassies abroad. It also aims to expand its advocacy engagement work for F-1 visa programs, in addition to its continued work in the J-1 visa space.

From year to year, advocates for exchange programs come together to ask Congress for appropriations to sustain programs such as the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES), the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), Future Leaders Exchange Programs (FLEX), and National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Programs.

Thanks to a successful Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in March and a campaign that garnered support from 115 Representatives and 33 Senators signing a letter in favor of exchange program funding from Congress for Fiscal Year 2020, the advocacy efforts in 2019 seem to be yielding positive results.

Zherka noted that, so far, “the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have allocated historic levels of funding in their respective bills for the next year.”

For more information about the Alliance’s advocacy and policy positions, visit www.alliance-exchange.org.