Roughly three weeks ago, the Huffington Post blog featured an article that highlighted a program given too little attention in the public diplomacy debate—international visitor exchanges. Sparked by the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to the United States, the article by President and CEO of the Meridian International Center Stuart Holiday highlights the long-term value of these exchanges.
This visit to the United States was not Mr. Xi’s first; he traveled to the United States for the first time in 1985 as a provincial official, where he studied Iowa’s agricultural policies as part of a Chinese delegation. According to the Huffington Post, the vice president’s warm feelings toward the United States were the direct result of his previous visit to the country 27 years ago. Although the visit lasted only a short amount of time, the time was sufficient to create a lasting impression of the United States and its people.
In a time when political tensions run increasingly high, programs such as these allow government officials (and, more broadly, countries) to develop long-term, meaningful relationships.
The State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), launched in 1940, has aimed and continues to aim to “build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders.”
Over the years, the IVLP has hosted leaders from the public and private sectors as well as 330 current and former Chiefs of State and Heads of Government and thousands of cabinet-level ministers. As stated on the IVLP website, these visits “reflect the International Visitors’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.”
In other words, these international visitor programs are mutually beneficial and can have a significant impact on all parties involved. “Exchanges offer an in-depth experience with a foreign country, its culture, its systems, and most importantly, its people. Exchanges provide a substantive and long-lasting connection.” This instrumental public diplomacy tool allows governments to establish connections with those parties it believes could become vital partners in the future.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, international visitor exchanges will allow us to form substantial connections across the globe, reinforcing those relationships already established and creating the core foundations for new ones.