We regularly talk about the public diplomacy “multiplier effect” achieved through J-1 exchange programs. Exchange programs connect people around the world and link people through common interests, values, and passions. While U.S. designated exchange organizations – sponsors – implement individual programs, the State Department oversees the overall functioning of the Exchange Visitor Program and how sponsors conduct their individual programs. We ensure that the goals we seek to achieve through public diplomacy are fulfilled through J-1 sponsored exchanges. Route J-1 has allowed me to see for myself how that is happening in the area of volunteerism, a major focus area of the State Department’s public diplomacy mission around the world.
The volunteer efforts of J-1 Summer Work Travel students at Custer State Park Resort, as captured in a recent post by my colleague, Deb Shetler, were made possible through their sponsor’s volunteerism program. The participants in that program who volunteer at least 20 hours during their exchange may apply to their sponsor for grants to conduct volunteer activities back home, leading to the “multiplier effect.”
I felt fortunate to spend a morning in Washington, DC with the students who were selected for those grants. During their exchange, they were motivated to give back to the societies they were living in and learned how American philanthropies put service projects together. One student remarked on how impressive it was to meet people who spend so much of their time volunteering for no pay. Another student acknowledged that in his home country, people find it strange that one would aspire to do work for no pay so it is hard to elicit support for such efforts. However, many said they will tap into their social media networks and were highly confident they would find enough volunteers to get involved. I really liked that a number of them plan to combine their volunteer programs with their chosen career paths.
The students will return to Egypt, the Philippines, China, Thailand, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Jamaica with well-planned projects. As a student from Ukraine told me, this experience has changed her life. Many others reported the same. One student from Egypt remarked on how much the program developed his leadership skills, “I wondered all my life if I would be successful or not. Now I know I am.” A young woman from Romania said, “I am changed. I was so shy, and now I can stand up and speak to an audience, and I am motivated to travel the world.” These stories are a testament to the influence a skills-building exchange experience can have on a young person as they look to their future.
I was very touched by a participant from Jamaica who spoke of his community at home as “fractured.” He will take his volunteer skills back to “create a beautiful place for people in his community to enjoy together.” To think of all the individuals that each of these young people will touch as leaders through their volunteer efforts – and that we had a small part to play in that – it’s pretty powerful!
|About G. Kevin Saba|
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange
G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.Read More
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