In 2015-2016 I had the privilege and pleasure of working as an International Visitor Liaison for the United States Department of State’s premier professional exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). During my twelve month tenure, I completed ten assignments, working with hundreds of visitors from every region of the world on projects with programmatic topics ranging from Peace and Security, Government Accountability, Women’s Health, Youth Leadership, Investigative Journalism, and more.
The role of liaison is largely logistical. We typically begin our assignments in Washington D.C., greeting high ranking professionals who were selected by U.S. embassy personnel from around the world and invited to participate in programs compatible with their professional interests. Most programs run three weeks long and begin with an overview of American federalism and visits to federal agency offices, as well as national and international non-governmental organizations in Washington.
Daily, liaisons lead group members from their hotel via pre-arranged transfers to scheduled meetings. We attend all aspects of the program with the visitors without being active participants. Following meetings in D.C., IVLP groups usually travel to a few American cities to meet with interlocutors in public and private sectors. It is our responsibility as liaisons to ensure timely departures and arrivals.
Being a liaison is also highly relational. We are citizen diplomats, cultural interpreters who can answer questions about the nuances of American norms and customs. We can clarify content covered in official meetings. Occasionally we manage emergencies. Our implicit duty is to model appropriate professional demeanor.
As a liaison welcoming people from other countries, appreciation for diversity is paramount. In multi-regional groups of up to twenty-five participants, there will be many differences: language, appearance, attire, behavior, and perspective. Each individual participant’s unique comprehension of the program topic can contribute to the learning of the whole group. The relational style and attitude of the liaison-citizen diplomat can help bridge cultural differences within the group to enhance the overall program experience.
Becoming a citizen diplomat is not an official position. Anyone can assume a welcoming posture of graciousness and inclusivity when welcoming visitors from other parts of the world.