As International Visitors travel across the United States to various cities, they meet with Americans both formally and informally. This network of 80,000 mostly volunteer “citizen diplomats” accompany the participants to local meetings, host dinners in their homes, and connect with them to share professional ideas and resources.
Heather and Brian are two of these “citizen diplomats” who meet with IVLP participants in Rochester, NY. After meeting with a group of ten Pakistani International Visitors, in the United States for a “Community Dialogue and Dispute Resolution” project, they were invited to Karachi for a week of cultural and professional collaboration.
“We were welcomed with open arms,” says Heather. “The experience was truly inspiring. The conference was proof that our commonalities far exceed our differences. It was a perfect context for an exchange of ideas, not only between our countries but between our professions as well. We were united by the goal of creating a better future for the coming generation.”
In Pakistan, Heather and Brian met with professors, university students, and youth of Pakistan to create a Community Dialogue and Dispute Resolution program. The students and faculty took part in an art installation that involved writing letters to a future generation and envisioning a more just society. Heather states she has over 100 letters from Americans and Pakistanis that reflect possibilities for the future. Brian also collaborated with IVLP alumni to start a “Social Film Festival” which showcased short films about social issues made by American and Pakistani youth. The winners received a standing ovation from the 300+ conference attendees.
“This is just the start of relationships that will last a lifetime,” says Heather. “We continue to share personal stories and professional ideas with many Pakistani people through Facebook and email, and we are already planning future projects that combine art with important social issues that affect both of our countries and international communities.”
Back in the United States, Heather and Brian continue to meet with IVLP participants, particularly when it involves their areas of expertise. She focuses on art and art history, particularly mixed media, performance art and social intervention. He focuses on contemporary youth culture and literacy, particularly when adolescents use digital media art to create short films, music videos, animation, documentaries in school. Both enjoy the interactions of IVLP.
“We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with our international neighbors around the globe,” says Brian. “In this case, IVLP allowed us to exchange ideas with people in Pakistan, learn from each other, and make new friends. I am convinced that we need less military exchanges between countries and more opportunities for art, education, and culture to facilitate cooperation rather than competition.”