By Mark Overmann
It is with a heavy heart that the Alliance recognizes the recent passing of Elizabeth Chazottes. Elizabeth led the Association for International Practical Training (AIPT) for nearly 25 years and played a crucial role in its merger with CDS International to become what is now Cultural Vistas. Since the Alliance’s founding in 1993, Elizabeth was an instrumental player in its growth: she served as chair of its J-1 Task Force, Vice Chair of the Board, and as Board Chair from 2006-09.
Elizabeth was Chair when I first joined the Alliance in 2009 and I distinctly remember my first meetings with her. I remember how she immediately made me feel welcomed and included, like I was already a part of the Alliance and international exchange family. That was my first impression of Elizabeth: warmth, generosity, obvious care for her friends and colleagues. Over time, as I got to know her and see her in action, these initial impressions were not only strengthened, but also were matched by her deep professional skill and experience, her understated yet forceful diplomatic abilities, and her obvious passion for our field. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her, learn from her, and call her a friend and colleague.
Below are remembrances of Elizabeth from three others in our field: Michael McCarry, former Executive Director of the Alliance; Rob Fenstermacher, former CEO of Cultural Vistas; and Jennifer Clinton, current CEO of Cultural Vistas and current Alliance Board Chair. I hope you’ll read on and remember/learn about the wonderful person and professional that Elizabeth was. She will be missed by many.
Remembrance from Michael McCarry
Former Executive Director, Alliance for International Exchange (1994-2015)
Over its nearly 30 years, the Alliance has been remarkably well served by its board chairs. One of the most important of that distinguished group is Elizabeth Chazottes, who recently passed away after a battle with cancer.
Elizabeth was Deputy Director and then Executive Director of the Association for International Practical Training (AIPT), in Columbia, MD. Her service to the Alliance was enormous, and long-lasting. For years, she chaired our (often unruly) J-1 Task Force. No one else seemed to have the disposition or patience to do it. And frankly, no one could have done it better. She later became Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, and then served four years as Alliance Chair.
She was not our first female chair, nor the first chair to serve four years. But her mark on the Alliance’s history remains indelible. AIPT was a medium-sized organization, and the first exclusively J-1 sponsor to chair the Alliance. Previously, our chairs, all highly capable, had been drawn from larger organizations primarily involved in programs receiving federal funds or in higher education. And even though Elizabeth was a pioneer of a sort, she was so skilled and poised in the role of chair that no one ever uttered a syllable of dissatisfaction with her leadership.
It was during her years as chair that, after years of advocacy by the Alliance, ECA created the J-1 intern category. And of course, no leader could have been better equipped to deal with the advocacy challenges posed by that rulemaking than Elizabeth.
I was particularly pleased to have Elizabeth at my side one night in the New Delhi airport. We’d flown in from Bangkok in the middle of the night. I’d had more experience in India than Elizabeth, so I figured it was up to me to figure things out. But I should have known better. A tall, distinguished man in a white uniform with brass buttons and a matching turban approached her, bowed, and said, “Ms. Chazottes?” Thanks to Elizabeth’s friendship with the manager of the Taj Hotel in Delhi, we were in a Mercedes and on our way in a matter of minutes.
Elizabeth’s leadership of the Alliance as Chair was followed by Christine Schulze, Executive Director of Concordia Language Villages, and then Lynn Shotwell, Executive Director of the American Council for International Personnel (ACIP). This added up to 10 consecutive years of truly exemplary leadership from three women from medium-sized organizations involved in what we then called the Exchange Visitor Program, now BridgeUSA. The leadership of these three outstanding chairs changed the Alliance forever, and for the better. And Elizabeth was the catalyst for that.
I had lunch with Elizabeth shortly before she became ill, and she was entirely herself: fun, funny, full of stories about how she and her family had weathered the pandemic, and happy to enhance her meal with a glass of Sancerre. Over time, we had many such lunches, and that’s how I’ll remember her.
Remembrance from Rob Fenstermacher
Chief Content Officer, American Council on Germany
Former President and CEO, Cultural Vistas, and former Executive Director, CDS International
It is with a sad heart that I write these words and memories about Elizabeth Chazottes. I first met Elizabeth attending an Alliance Annual Meeting in the early 2000s when she was serving as the chair of the J-1 Task Force. Those were challenging times for the exchange community dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, new regulations impacting the J-1 visa program (most notably the introduction of SEVIS), and the SARS epidemic. Later when she was Chair of the Alliance from 2006 to 2009, I remember being impressed by her leadership that helped ensure the U.S. exchange community, with its vast array of organizations, programs, and interests, spoke with one voice in advocating for our positions and for the enormous value exchange programs play in U.S. public diplomacy efforts. Her drive and commitment were vital to the Alliance and to our exchange community.
From 2003 to 2010, while leading “competitor” exchange organizations at AIPT and CDS International, Elizabeth and I would often call one another to discuss issues affecting our programs and to strategize on joint approaches to work with the State Department and the Alliance community on solving the crisis of the moment. We developed a strong professional friendship that intensified when we both attended the EducationUSA regional conference in Prague in March 2010. Over lunch, Elizabeth first proposed the idea of AIPT and CDS merging given the many similarities in our programming. Feeling a bit like we were secret agents meeting in a foreign city, we quickly shared the idea with our colleagues, and at the beginning of 2011, Cultural Vistas was born.
Elizabeth was a passionate believer in the power of international exchange and an incredible leader within the exchange community. She influenced many professionals building careers in international exchange, many of whom remain active today in various Alliance members. I feel privileged to have worked so closely with her for many years, learning from her, and in collaborating with her and our teams to merge AIPT and CDS International to create Cultural Vistas. Her legacy will live on for many years and she will be very much missed.
Remembrance from Jennifer Clinton
CEO, Cultural Vistas, and current Alliance Board Chair
Elizabeth joined AIPT in 1987 and served for 25 years, helping the organization navigate the turbulent times of the late-1980s as the Department of State was re-interpreting the J-1 visa regulations in the trainee category (there was no ‘intern’ category at the time). She came to the organization from the hospitality industry to help AIPT grow its hospitality and tourism program, which had been launched in 1973. This program quickly grew to become the largest of the organization’s three distinct J-1 visa programs, with ultimately more than 1,000 exchanges per year.
Elizabeth took over daily oversight of all AIPT exchange programs in the late-1980s and became Executive Director in 1996. She led the organization’s growth through 9/11 (2001 was the year in which the organization recorded its greatest number of exchanges) and stabilized the organization through the 2008 financial crisis before beginning merger discussions with Rob Fenstermacher of CDS International in 2010.
Along with then-AIPT president Bob Sprinkle, she was also involved in supporting the merger of the International Exchange Association and the Liaison Group for International Educational Exchange to become the Alliance for International Exchange in 1993 (she would later serve on the Alliance Board of Directors, including as Board Chair).
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and interact with Elizabeth after I stepped into my role as CEO at Cultural Vistas. She shared with me her personal perspectives of AIPT, CDS, Cultural Vistas, and the field. She was such a lovely person, with such obvious passion, dedication, and empathy. The international exchange community has many heroes around the world, and I know Elizabeth will be remembered for her tireless dedication to opportunity, inclusion, and connection across differences.