The International Visitor Leadership Program: A Cultural Experience and Professional Exchange

The best way to become familiar with another country is to visit and experience the food, people, languages, and cultures first-hand. Each year, the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna invites selected contacts to see and learn about the United States on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

The IVLP enables intensive professional exchange among subject matter experts in a unique way. It fosters cultural understanding between Americans and people from all around the globe. It is an excellent initiative, and we are glad to support it,” noted U.S. Mission Chargé d’Affaires Andrew J. Schofer, who recently met with some of the program’s alumni to discuss their experiences.  

The U.S. Department of State invites current and emerging leaders from across the world to spend two or three weeks in the United States on curated programs that cover a wide range of topics, ranging from international security policy to women in STEAM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Math).  Professionals in related areas of work travel together in groups of fifteen to twenty people.  Typically, the first stop is Washington D.C., where they receive briefings from federal government officials and learn about the differences between the federal system and local and state forms of government.  Subsequently, they travel to two or three other cities that highlight the diversity of the United States and also host institutions and experts relevant to the trip topic.

Throughout the entire tour, visitors follow a rigorous schedule of meetings with American officials, private companies, and subject matter experts.  On each trip, they usually visit universities, schools, private corporations, U.S. Government agencies, and other venues that showcase American best practices.  

Charge d’affaires Andrew J. Schofer recently hosted a reunion for a group of IVLP alumni from international organizations based in Vienna.


Vienna-Based Participants Share their IVLP Experiences

The U.S. Mission’s nominees are often experts or officials working at the Vienna-based international organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, (CTBTO), the United Nations in Vienna (UNOV), and others.

The Mission recently sent a young physicist to the U.S. who is an expert in nuclear security for an IVLP involving Women in STEAM fields.  She participated in a project which examined the evolution and advancement of women in U.S.-based scientific research and innovation.  Visitors on this program also met with experts who showed them examples of public/private partnerships designed to accelerate and support students learning STEAM subjects, targeting girls from diverse backgrounds.

Another recent Mission nominee works in the global fight against illicit narcotics. Her IVLP itinerary focused on the U.S. commitment to global cooperation against international crime, the U.S. criminal justice system, and the U.S. responses to transnational crime.  She traveled with a diverse group of senior police, judges, and legal experts from all over the world. They witnessed legislative and judicial activities and met with local, state and federal law enforcement officials.    

Typically, the first stop of an IVLP is Washington D.C.

The “Home Stay” Experience

Mixed in amongst all the meetings and presentations, there are opportunities to experience American culture and social activities.  Cultural and personal exchanges are essential to the IVLP and every visit includes a “home stay” element where each individual traveler meets with an American family to learn about American pastimes and interests.  Examples include joining a home-cooked family dinner, attending a baseball game or a concert, and visiting a local museum with a host family.  

In addition to the camaraderie between the participants, the American trip leaders and the visitors get to know each other very well.  Oftentimes, perspectives shift and mutual understanding grows.  The resulting friendships and professional networks can last lifetimes and transcend politics and borders.

Thanks to the power of social media, it is easier than ever for IVLP visitors to connect with co-participants and trip leaders after the trip concludes. The State Department stays in touch with former visitors through a dedicated Alumni Network.  Many participants move on to senior management positions in government, business, and civil society.  While these leaders may have opinions or policies that differ from those of the U.S. Government, they usually have a better understanding of American culture, government structure, and the decision-making process.  

To learn more about the IVLP, visit the Office of Cultural and Educational Affairs’ website.