The U.S. Department of State has a long history of offering international exchange programs to professionals living abroad. Those programs allow individuals from around the world to meet with their counterparts right here in the United States to exchange best practices. Importantly, the State Department does not only bring in adults for these programs; State also heavily invests in youth exchanges and brings in thousands of high school students to the United States every year.

These exchanges are a critical part of our nation’s public diplomacy efforts. The students, who are often hand-selected for exchanges, come to the United States to learn more about life in America and to build lifelong relationships with their American peers. Because such exchange programs foster personal connections between Americans and future leaders living abroad, they are not only important for diplomatic purposes; they also directly contribute to America’s ability to meaningfully engage with the international community. As well, these exchanges allow young adults to learn specific skills and values, such as civics, leadership, multicultural engagement, and even disaster preparedness. Over the last decade, Global Ties KC has hosted students on 29 of these programs from countries such as Serbia, France, El Salvador, Mauritius, and Ghana.

While each of these programs includes introductions and training surrounding civic education and leadership, they also carry specific subthemes, including students from France for community service projects, youth leaders from El Salvador for disaster preparedness programs, and young adults from Sub-Saharan Africa for training in entrepreneurship. We have seen for ourselves just how life-changing these experiences can be for young people. Unlike with adult programs, where participants are already in established fields of work, for our students, their future possibilities are endless. One participant was in awe of the fact that our Fire Department could respond quickly to medical emergencies and save countless lives because of it — whereas in his home country, these response times tended to be far longer.  He was soon inspired to one day become a firefighter or a medical responder and help his own community.

The amazing part about this story is that it is just one example of a young person being inspired by their time in the United States, and then bringing the knowledge they gained back home. The great reality is that these occurrences happen more times than we can count. Because of youth exchange programs, not only are we investing in these lifelong relationships between young folks in America and those abroad; youth visitors are also directly taking the skills and principles they have learned here and bringing them back home. This kind of direct, person-to-person engagement is invaluable to our nation’s public diplomacy efforts and our ability to shape the world.

To learn more about upcoming youth delegations visiting Kansas City, or to learn about how you can host a student from abroad when in-person programming resumes, visit this page on our website.