November 3, 2017
The international exchange community gathered in late October to discuss the current state of the field and ways to move forward in the coming year. The Alliance for International Exchange’s Annual Meeting featured an array of policy discussions, information and strategy trainings, and networking opportunities for its members across the exchange community. Key government agencies, including the US Department of State, were well represented.
One of the first plenary panels included Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, US-China Education Trust President alongside Ambassador Brian Carlson, Ambassador Stuart Holliday, and Mark Taplin discussing the observations and lessons learned from a diplomatic perspective.
The conversation touched on several topics including the importance and value exchanges play in public diplomacy. Taplin noted that exchanges are an important tool in US diplomacy but he also suggested there’s more to it than simply promoting the foreign policy interests of the United States.
In fact, it was noted that the push and pull in exchange philosophy between promoting mutual understanding versus government policy continue unabated. Ambassador Bloch pointed out that only a fraction of the 1,000,000 students in US international exchange programs are funded by the government. Private sector exchanges largely focus on building mutual understanding to help create trust between countries.
The role of public-private partnerships was an important point as the panelists expressed the need for both private and public exchanges because they largely complement one in other.
Panelists and participants all pointed to the need for funding and support as a constant challenge for the exchange community. The panelists noted that in an administration that takes an “America First,” zero-sum view of international relations, finding and cultivating broader support for exchanges is particularly challenging. There was also discussion on ways to move forward in the current climate, especially as the Department of State sees major cuts to its funding.
Finding ways to better connect with alumni was suggested as a means to build support. It was generally agreed that building robust alumni programs remains elusive due in large part to the lack of resources. It was pointed out however that there are organizations, including the Department of State, working on ways to better address this issue.
Overall, while questions and concerns were raised, there was agreement that international exchanges have and will continue to play an important role in public diplomacy and in society at large.