Each year, about 900 U.S, Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) students successfully complete their exchange year and return to their home countries with the American spirit of volunteerism, resulting in an ever expanding and increasingly robust alumni network. But cultivating cross-cultural connections that transcend borders is difficult with travel restrictions and regulations that make in-person events prohibitive. One of the best resources for maintaining these networks is virtual programming.
In April 2020, iEARN-USA, one of the YES program recruitment organizations, implemented its second online leadership and professional development workshop, called Virtual Alumni Leaders Training (VALT). VALT, a series of online trainings that spanned a two-week period, offered sessions designed to enhance and develop participants’ skills and knowledge in leadership and project management. Sixty YES alumni from over 30 countries attended sessions on topics such as developing strong partnerships, monitoring and evaluation, writing grant proposals, leveraging social media for community impact, brainstorming innovative programs, and communicating effectively. Each session was facilitated by an expert guest speaker, granting YES alumni access to a diverse range of knowledge and skill sets.
Alumni were delighted that the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) Susan R. Crystal joined the closing ceremony to speak about the importance of strong leadership during extraordinary times. DAS Crystal said, “as the YES students return to their home countries, alumni have the opportunity to lead and excite the newest generation of YES alumni about their role as cultural ambassadors and community leaders.” DAS Crystal encouraged alumni to continue their exchange by educating others about the experiences YES students have in the United States and the deep and long-lasting relationships they build.
VALT inspires YES alumni to create a deep sense of community and it provides a space for alumni leaders to connect virtually and cultivate a shared sense of identity that spans countries, cultures, and YES generations.