Linda Staheli of the Co Lab facilitated an interactive brainstorm salon with Global Ties U.S. around the current and future state of the international exchange field.
“In flux”, “growing quickly”, “filled with opportunities”, “in need of collaboration”, and “undergoing a transformation” was how a number of up-and-coming international exchange leaders described the current state of the international exchange field during a recent salon session co-hosted by Global Ties U.S. and the Global Co-Lab Network. Representatives from Cultural Vistas, Youth for Understanding, Kizuna Across Cultures (KAC), International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP), Global Ties U.S., and the Mexican and German Embassies came together for an interactive brainstorming session around the current and future state of the international exchange field. The goal of this discussion was to bring some of the sharpest, most innovative minds together in a relaxed setting to discuss the challenges and opportunities the international exchange community faces in a time of growing skepticism about globalization, rapid growth in the movement of people, and widespread changes in international education.
Given the demands for international exchange practitioners to focus on delivering exceptional experiences to a growing number of program participants each year (which is already in the millions) they often note they wish for more time and opportunities to step back and reflect on the current status of the field, the internal and external dynamics shaping it, and discuss amongst peers what they would like to see the field look like in the future. During the discussion, the group identified a shared vision for the exchange field that is more outward facing and more adept at integrating virtual elements and/or hybrid models to scale exchange participation and impact. The group noted a desire for the field to be more effective at deepening long-term connections and alumni relationships, and having more diversity among participants, practitioners, and partners. Another particularly interesting concept mentioned during the salon was “the life-cycle of engagement”. The group recognized that exchange practitioners should match the life cycle of the individual, engaging each one in unique and tailored ways—for example, as a young exchange program participant, as an alum, a young or mid-career professional, a parent, and even as a grandparent. How can we extend the life cycle of engagement and pull the exchange participant’s family and friends into the world of exchanges along the way?
Moving forward, the salon participants noted a desire for greater collaboration and cohesion amongst practitioners as an important step towards moving us closer to this vision. When we work together, we will be able to reach government leaders and other decision-makers inside and outside the field for sector-wide impact. In these ways, we can better address our shared mutual challenges within the exchange field, such as technology use, increased engagement, and diversity within exchanges. Our discussion participants expressed genuine appreciation for the salon forum, noting limited opportunities to connect with representatives of other organizations and discuss the state of our field, as well as how to improve it. We all felt “empowered to be our own tornadoes”, driving others in our organization, our field, and our networks to take the exchange experience to the next level.
As American novelist Ken Kasey put it, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling someone to go somewhere. You lead by going to a place and making a case.” We plan to do just that by continuing this important conversation about the importance and future of exchanges, replicating this model with different audiences at various levels. Next spring, Global Ties US will hold a salon with CEOs of exchange organizations here in DC to increase collaboration and innovation throughout the field and really maximize its full potential. Stay tuned!