The Role of Exchanges

Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed.
—President Barack Obama

International exchange programs—moving people across borders for educational, professional, or cultural purposes—connect an ever-widening circle of Americans with their counterparts around the world. Exchange programs create opportunities: opportunities for participants to learn, to prosper, and to work with others to solve shared problems and ensure a secure future. Exchanges create future leaders who instinctively appreciate the value of international collaboration, understanding, and empathy.

The United States faces economic uncertainty, ongoing threats to national security, and a tarnished image overseas. Meeting these challenges requires smart power strategies that rebuild strong international partnerships. By enabling student, teacher, scholar, and citizen participants to experience American communities and citizens firsthand—and by allowing Americans to experience foreign communities and citizens in the same way—exchanges are a critical support to official U.S. diplomacy and an essential part of building international relationships for the future. 

Exchanges change minds
Evaluations consistently show that foreign exchange participants complete their programs with a better impression of their host country and its people. For example, U.S. ambassadors consistently rank exchange programs among the most useful catalysts for long-term political change and mutual understanding. A Congressional Research Service review of 29 reports on public diplomacy revealed that the most common recommendation of these reports was to increase exchange funding.

Exchanges create lifelong benefits for participants
Foreign exchange participants to the United States, and American exchange participants abroad, are exposed to the values, customs, and ways of doing business in their host country not from bureaucrats or diplomats, but from teachers, students, families, and volunteers from all walks of life. In turn, the communities who host the exchange participants build international partnerships of their own and gain a fuller appreciation of foreign cultures and values. All people involved in exchange programs, both participants and hosts, then engage those around them with regard to their new international exposure, creating a vast multiplier effect.

Exchanges bring resources to U.S. communities
Significant portions of the Department of State exchanges budget are spent in the United States, and foreign students and exchange visitors spend substantial personal funds here. In addition, the exchange appropriation leverages important contributions, including tuition waivers from U.S. universities for academic grantees and extensive volunteer activity by Americans.

Exchanges help address critical topics
Exchanges encourage leadership aspirations among participants. By fostering collaboration on issues such as national security, global economics and trade, energy, climate change, terrorism, and nuclear nonproliferation, exchanges create generations of leaders with contacts and experience around the globe, leaders who understand the significance and importance of widespread engagement and understanding and instinctively incorporate the international into their every day life and work.

Investments in exchange programs—by the federal government, the private sector, academic institutions, and communities throughout the United States—pay remarkable dividends by supporting the United States’ productive engagement with the world.

I hope we'll have a lot more exchanges of all kinds, people-to-people exchanges. I think governments have to talk, and that's important…but there is nothing that is more effective than having people break down barriers between themselves.
—Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Visit the Alliance’s Advocacy page for more information on how to support international exchange.