While events culminated in Washington, D.C., this partnership also sent officials from 19 global cities to both Boston and San Francisco through an International Visitor Leadership Program. There, these climate change leaders saw how these two U.S. cities are leading the way through their efforts. For example in San Francisco, the group visited EcoCenter at Heron's Head Park, a LEED Platinum facility and park. It is also the first and only environmental education center in San Francisco that is "off the grid." I met up with the city leaders shortly after the visit, and they raved about the potential of buildings and initiatives like this in their cities, both to draw in the community and to stimulate economic growth.
In Boston, the group visited Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and met with city officials, including the city's chief of environment. In both cities, as well as in Washington, the group told us they took away ideas to implement back home. In the process, they also shared with U.S. mayors and city officials many of the efforts that are working for them and helping to advance their cities. This type of exchange is exactly why the State Department brings people together on initiatives like "Our Cities, Our Climate."
At the State Department event, Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, commented, "Cities are anxious to lead, and more -- the more they learn from one another and they borrow from one another, the more progress the world can make on climate change."
Mayor Fumiko Hayashi of Yokohama, Japan added that addressing climate change is really a business opportunity, as well as a necessity. Speaking on a panel at the event, she said that after the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan realized it would need to turn to alternative energies to continue to power their cities. As a result, they have increased usage of thermal power. The presenters all made it clear that change must happen.
As Secretary Kerry said, "The answer to climate change is not a mystery. It's not some pie-in-the-sky policy that we haven't discovered yet. It is staring us in the face, folks. It's called clean energy. It is that simple. And we're simply not going to get where we need to be unless we move rapidly towards a global, low-carbon, clean energy economy."
We are proud to support the efforts of cities across the globe, who are helping lead the...
High school exchanges participants make a profound impact not only on their host families, schools, and communities, but ultimately on overall relationships with the citizens and governments of their countries. I recently was reminded of this as I met with students who were visiting Washington, D.C. to mark the end...
Recently, we asked exchange program alumni and U.S.-based citizen diplomats who support State Department exchanges to finish the sentence, "Exchanges are..." We heard from hundreds of people who submitted everything from the poetic to the personal. People all around the world shared sentiments that affirmed that nothing can replace first-hand experience of another culture. As one citizen diplomat from Ohio wrote, "Exchanges are the most powerful form of diplomacy. They are where you create real relationships with real people."
This year, the State Department marks 75 years of implementing international exchange programs. The benefits of exposure to a new culture to learn about people and their viewpoints through an exchange cannot be overstated. Studying abroad during college expanded my world and led me down a path on which I have been involved with exchanges and people-to-people relationship building ever since. In positions ranging from my work in the Vice President's office, to my time on the board of PeacePlayers International, I have learned the importance of investing in civil society and helping citizens from all over our country and the world acquire the tools they need to make positive change.
We are initiating a global conversation throughout 2015 to collectively celebrate past and current exchanges, and define aspirations for the future of international exchange. To open the dialogue, Secretary Kerry has taken the time to share his personal experience with exchanges and the impacts that exchanges have on foreign policy. Additionally, many supporters of international exchange responded through social media, describing what "Exchanges Are" means to them.
Exchange programs have a track record of bridging divides. As Secretary Kerry says in his video, a lot can be accomplished through a handshake and a smile, a shared meal, or a conversation after class that is aided on both sides by a bilingual dictionary. We've helped foreign journalists explore the First Amendment and observe firsthand what freedom of speech really means on the International Visitor Leadership Program. We've dispatched Fulbrighters to teach English in Laos and Argentina. We've convinced basketball coaches from Israel and the Palestinian territories to come together in the name of sports.
Each month, we will continue to add to the conversation with new perspectives on our social media platforms. We are also launching a series of summits across the United States with our partner Global Ties U.S. to help Americans better understand citizen diplomacy and how they can get involved in international relations in their own communities. Our hope is that by the end of the year, many new audiences will understand the reach of State Department exchange programs and people-to-people diplomacy efforts -- programs that have impacted more than one million participants since 1940 and millions of others who interacted with those participants afterwards.
As we define the future of international exchange, continue to let us know your thoughts and share your stories. Exchange programs are one of the strongest forms of diplomacy. Together, we are sharing the values of liberty, individual dignity, and civil society with the...
When you empower a woman, you elevate her entire community. This message exuded from the 17 international participants in this year's U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program. This flagship program of the Department's Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative pairs dynamic emerging leaders from around the world with America's top female executives in the sports sector for a month-long mentorship experience. During their final week in the United States, I had an opportunity to meet with these young women when they reunited in Washington to reflect on their exchange program and share how they plan to apply what they gained back home. They laughed, they cheered, they shed tears, and they supported one another. The mentors, many of them CEOs or busy leaders in their organizations, took days away to come to the closing event. These activities represented women supporting women, building both networks and skill sets, and can serve as the backbone to a more secure and prosperous world.
The Global Sports Mentoring Program allowed for the emerging leaders to further explore how sports instill the confidence, leadership, and teamwork that women around the world need to excel on the field, and also in life. "Sports changed my life because they took me to school," says Maqulate Onyango of the Mathare Youth Sports Association in Kenya. "This program helped me get out of my comfort zone to take my sports community soccer projects to another level and feel like one of the 'women with wings.'" Maqulate's experience underscores the growing evidence that girls who play sports increase their achievements in many areas including higher education, employment, and the development of leadership and decision-making skills.
The program is a two way street -- mentors learn just as much from the experience as the emerging leaders. "The Global Sports Mentoring Program gives you a new appreciation for the impact that sports can have on individuals and society," recounts Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) President Laurel Ritchie, who has now participated for two years as a mentor. "When you know personally the positive influence sports have on your life, you have a desire to pay it forward; there's a powerful pass-along effect." According to the Women's Sports Foundation -- which was also a participating mentor organization this year -- 80 percent of women business executives in the U.S. played team sports and attribute their success to what they learned from those experiences.
As the program's closing sessions demonstrated, the Global Sports Mentoring Program serves as a stellar model for the kind of people-to-people exchanges the State Department implements to advance the rights and participation of women and girls around the world. We know that what can be considered as emerged leaders from the program will cause a ripple effect in their communities, where one woman's success encourages others to pursue their dreams. And the networks that result are the key. As my colleague Michelle Kwan said at the event: "You represent the most promising change agents in the world -- through your power as individuals and through your power in the network."
Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan and Senior Advisor Michelle Kwan meet with emerging leaders and mentors of the 2014 Global Sports Mentoring Program in Washington, D.C., October 7. (Photo credit: University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, and...
Suyen Barahona is from Managua, Nicaragua. After completing her undergraduate degree, she continued her studies as a Fulbright scholar, completing a Master of Science in environmental studies with a concentration in environmental policy at Ohio University. Upon returning home, Suyen wanted to provide low-income women across Nicaragua opportunities to move...
Hundreds of State Department-sponsored international high school exchange students recently met in Washington, D.C., after a successful year at schools across the United States. "Reach out beyond the known and make a difference," Secretary of State John Kerry told them as they came together before returning to their home countries.
While the students are going beyond the known, so too are the many host families who open their hearts and homes to these exceptional international students. It is important to me -- and to the State Department -- to recognize and thank the Americans who host exchange students. Communities in every state have welcomed more than 50,000 State Department-sponsored international exchange students. Here are just three ways hosting an exchange student will enrich your life.
Expand your world
Jessica from Redding, California, has been hosting international students since before she had children of her own. Now she has two children, and she shared how they have grown up with exchange students as their "brothers and sisters," giving her family a deeper understanding of other cultures. Laurie, a host parent from Utah, expressed similar sentiments, adding how her family was transformed by seeing the world through the eyes of others living in their home. "The students come with so many dreams and passions. They influenced my own children to follow their dreams and open new doors." Many host families find that having an exchange student in their family helps to dispel myths - about the U.S. and other countries - that so easily create division among people.
Form lasting ties
Jessica, like almost all of the host family members I have talked with, still keeps in touch with the exchange students she has hosted. In fact, soon she will attend a former exchange student's wedding in Colombia. Another host parent, Claire from New Jersey, experienced America through new eyes when she took her host student, Tijana from Serbia, on a trip down the California coast. Tijana began to cry upon seeing whales in the Pacific Ocean, explaining that she never dreamt that she would see something like that in her life. Claire said: "That was a really powerful experience for me. It meant a lot to be able to do something so simple that actually changes a person's life." In states around the country, and in countries around the world, ties are being established that will last a lifetime.
Enrich your community
Exchange student Vadym from Ukraine brought new meaning to community service in his Iowa host community by creating a larger-than-life Lego cardboard structure that helped bring attention to the plight of the homeless.
Another student, Asad from Pakistan who stayed in Redding, California, this past year, hosted a radio talk show about exchange students on a local community radio station. He also spoke before the district school board, which led to a 74-year-old veteran writing: "I don't think in my 74 years I have ever met a young man that has the acquaintance with facts, truths, and principles more than Asad.... I think this young man is a leader in the making." Jessica said that many people in Redding are not exposed to international cultures on a regular basis. But hosting break down barriers in a way that only occurs through people-to-people exchanges.
The experiences of Jessica and Laurie speak volumes on this life-changing experience. I hope you consider expanding your world, forming lasting ties, and enriching your community by opening your home to an outstanding State Department-sponsored exchange student. You may end up hosting again and again, like Jessica. To learn more, visit
"When hosting an exchange student, you learn a lot about your own family; you learn about listening, patience, and other countries. People connect with people. Hosting has taught us tolerance and opened us up so much." -- Jim Johnson, a host father from St. Paul, Minnesota, who hosted a high...
"What is the atmosphere of Mars mostly composed of?" asked Lyle Tavernier, a NASA Digital Learning Network Coordinator.
"Mostly carbon dioxide," answered a student from Colegio de Todos los Santos in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"Kramer Middle School, you're next. How many natural satellites are orbiting Mars?" Lyle said.
"There are two satellites on Mars," said a student from Kramer Middle School in Washington, D.C.
"You're both right. Very good!"
These students weren't visiting NASA headquarters, or talking with Lyle in their classrooms. They were on the first-ever international virtual field trip to Mars.
To inspire future astronauts, engineers, and innovators to study and work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) teamed up with NASA to connect students from Argentina, Nicaragua, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington D.C. via Google+ Hangout to learn about the Red Planet.
Our ECA Collaboratory Network, working with NASA's Digital Learning Network™ and the U.S. Embassies in Buenos Aires and Managua, brought these middle school students together for the USA Science and Engineering Festival. During their interactive lesson with NASA experts, the students from around the world shared their thinking on the best location to land a Mars rover, compared and contrasted the Red Planet's geology with Earth's, and watched amazing footage of the Mars Curiosity's first landing. This was the second program of an ongoing virtual exchange among these classrooms.
In addition to the five schools, more than 3,000 online participants, including classrooms and viewing parties, tuned in to the live webcast of the virtual field trip and submitted questions via Twitter. On social media, the Twitter reach for the #MarsFieldTrip program exceeded 79.3 million impressions. The YouTube recording has already received more than triple the number of views.
John Feeley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, spoke with the students. He explained how this program is increasing educational exchange opportunities across the Americas as part of President Obama's 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, which aims to strengthen a new generation's ability to reach across borders and solve shared challenges. Mr. Feeley also gave a shout-out to the students from Nicaragua, many of whom also participate in the State Department's English Access Microscholarship Program to learn English language skills in their home country. Despite their school's closures because of ongoing aftershocks from a 6.1 earthquake earlier that month, all 30 Nicaraguan students and four teachers voluntarily attended the event. We were so relieved to hear that they were safe. We're also glad that, despite the seismic activity, the students were excited to participate. I believe some of their passion comes from the prospect of taking part in the first human manned mission to orbit Mars--a goal that President Obama has made for the 2030s.
That's why it's increasingly important that we fuel the engines that propel students' interest in STEM. With more than 60 percent of the world's population under the age of 30, young people are our future problem solvers. By connecting them with other STEM-centric students around the world, we can increase the chances of solving our world's most pressing issues like climate change, environmental security, or public health.
Through this international virtual field trip to Mars, the United States is using every venue--both face-to-face exchange programs, and through new digitally connective technologies--to encourage a new generation of doers to reach across borders and tackle problems that extend beyond their hometowns.
We need everyone to pitch in their ideas. Get ready, because Lyle may call on you next. And then maybe, in 2030, you'll be waving to us from...
Last week, I was honored to attend a screening of The Monuments Men at the White House. Currently in theaters, The Monuments Men tells the story of a group of art experts sent to Europe during World War II to find and save art masterpieces from the clutches of the...