June 30, 2015

U.S. Citizen Diplomacy: Building Bridges through Exchanges

U.S. International Exchange Alumni: Take the Citizen Diplomacy Challenge!On the 30th anniversary of the Fulbright program, J. William Fulbright remarked, “We must try to expand the boundaries of human wisdom, empathy, and perception, and there is no way of doing that except through education.”  
 
Through people-to-people educational and cultural exchanges, participants cross borders for new academic and cultural experiences. In turn, they educate their host communities about their culture and traditions, breaking stereotypes and forging new friendships. As Sarah Bibbey, a YES Abroad exchange alumna, commented on Twitter, “You make friends of all ages on exchange, and friends are what actually create peace.” 
 
By going on exchange, Americans just like Sarah play a key role in U.S. foreign affairs. They are our country’s Citizen Diplomats. In many cases, American exchange participants may be a foreign community’s first tangible encounter with American culture. In classrooms and volunteer experiences abroad, Citizen Diplomats share American values with their new friends and host families.  
 
But, according to the most recent Open Doors Report, published annually by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the State Department, fewer than 10% of U.S. students study abroad. Returned American exchange program participants can play an important role in changing that statistic and increasing the number of U.S. Citizen Diplomats.
 
In honor of the 75th anniversary of State Department exchange programs, and in recognition of the American alumni community, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) launched the U.S. Citizen Diplomacy Challenge to empower Americans to explore new cultures and languages. Throughout the Challenge, American alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs were encouraged to share their exchange stories and photos with the next generation of potential Citizen Diplomats. For each Challenge activity, alumni earned points toward prizes, including a Grand Prize trip to Washington D.C. to meet with senior State Department officials.
 
In less than three months, the State Department received more than 350 Challenge activity submissions. American alumni shared the positive impact of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs on social media, with schools, and on national news programs. Below, read the list of the ten outstanding winners of the State Department’s first U.S. Citizen Diplomacy Challenge. 
 
Grand Prize Winners
 
Sarah Bibbey
 
Tiara Willis
 
Grace Garrett
 
Second Prize Winners
 
Octavio Saenz
Exchange Program: American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), 2011, South Korea
 
Alexandra Johnston
Exchange Program: Fulbright Student Program, 1994-1995, Japan
 
Olapeju Simoyan
Exchange Program: Fulbright Specialists Program, 2012-2014, Nigeria
 
Sarah Sanderson
Exchange Program: Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, 2013, Brazil
 
Third Prize Winners
 
Isabel de Katona
 
Ryan David Smith
Exchange Program: Fulbright Teacher Exchange, 2012, Hungary
 
Clare Volz
Exchange Program: Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, 2014-2015, Indonesia 

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