State Department Marks 75 Years of International Exchange Programs

Recently, we asked exchange program alumni and U.S.-based citizen diplomats who support State Department exchanges to finish the sentence, "Exchanges are..." We heard from hundreds of people who submitted everything from the poetic to the personal. People all around the world shared sentiments that affirmed that nothing can replace first-hand experience of another culture. As one citizen diplomat from Ohio wrote, "Exchanges are the most powerful form of diplomacy. They are where you create real relationships with real people."

This year, the State Department marks 75 years of implementing international exchange programs. The benefits of exposure to a new culture to learn about people and their viewpoints through an exchange cannot be overstated. Studying abroad during college expanded my world and led me down a path on which I have been involved with exchanges and people-to-people relationship building ever since. In positions ranging from my work in the Vice President's office, to my time on the board of PeacePlayers International, I have learned the importance of investing in civil society and helping citizens from all over our country and the world acquire the tools they need to make positive change.

We are initiating a global conversation throughout 2015 to collectively celebrate past and current exchanges, and define aspirations for the future of international exchange. To open the dialogue, Secretary Kerry has taken the time to share his personal experience with exchanges and the impacts that exchanges have on foreign policy. Additionally, many supporters of international exchange responded through social media, describing what "Exchanges Are" means to them.

Exchange programs have a track record of bridging divides. As Secretary Kerry says in his video, a lot can be accomplished through a handshake and a smile, a shared meal, or a conversation after class that is aided on both sides by a bilingual dictionary. We've helped foreign journalists explore the First Amendment and observe firsthand what freedom of speech really means on the International Visitor Leadership Program. We've dispatched Fulbrighters to teach English in Laos and Argentina. We've convinced basketball coaches from Israel and the Palestinian territories to come together in the name of sports.

Each month, we will continue to add to the conversation with new perspectives on our social media platforms. We are also launching a series of summits across the United States with our partner Global Ties U.S. to help Americans better understand citizen diplomacy and how they can get involved in international relations in their own communities. Our hope is that by the end of the year, many new audiences will understand the reach of State Department exchange programs and people-to-people diplomacy efforts -- programs that have impacted more than one million participants since 1940 and millions of others who interacted with those participants afterwards.

As we define the future of international exchange, continue to let us know your thoughts and share your stories. Exchange programs are one of the strongest forms of diplomacy. Together, we are sharing the values of liberty, individual dignity, and civil society with the world.