Global Exchange Makes for Authentic Connections and Good Careers
By Victoria Lynden
There is no substitute for experience. In this incredibly virtual world where we can peek at the farthest corners of the earth just by turning on our computers, the fact remains that if you want to connect with a person or a culture, there is nothing like talking face-to-face, sharing a meal, working on a project together and actually bonding with people from other countries and cultures. It’s called citizen diplomacy and it’s more powerful than official state visits because it’s authentic—not staged—and it forges real relationships based on shared experiences, not political mandates. Ultimately, by building these relationships, whole populations can find common ground and forge peaceful connections through global exchange. That’s an idea that’s recognized not just in education or exchange circles. The U.S. Department of State encourages U.S. citizens to become global diplomats.
As head of an organization that helps 10,000 students a year travel abroad and work in different cultures, I’ve had the great fun and honor to deploy hundreds of thousands of citizen diplomats. And they’ve told me amazing stories of transformation: There was the American college student whose life revolved around social activities and building a lucrative career, until he traveled to Darwin, Australia for a summer. The trip, he said, changed his character and caused him to reevaluate his priorities. For the first time in his life, he had no social outlet but to become involved in the local community. And they were so warm and welcoming, he loved it. It made him realize that he wanted more connection with people, and was now planning to go into medicine. Global exchange changed his career path.
There was the young woman from Peru who came to work in America and was inspired by all the activism she saw. So when she returned home, she enlisted her university to help her change regulations to protect air quality. And the young man from Brazil who caught the spirit of entrepreneurship while in the U.S. and launched his own company when he returned home. Global exchange inspired both.
There are other benefits, too. A September 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review entitled Be a Better Manager: Live Abroad quoted research that showed:
People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and display more creativity…what’s more, we found that people with this international experience are more likely to create new businesses and products and to be promoted.
In other words, there’s really no down side. We live at a time when anyone can launch a blog read ‘round the world; start a business and sell products almost as easily to a different continent as to her own; and engage in debate with people all over the world. I think it’s important that we also look in their eyes, grasp their hands and walk a little way in their shoes.