Before and After: The Life-Changing Effects of an International Exchange Program

Three weeks may not seem like a lot of time. But when you’re on an international exchange program, three weeks can be transformative.

This spring, high school students from Argentina and Chile shared just such a life-changing experience as part of the Youth Ambassadors Program. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding from the U.S. government, the program brings together high school students and adult mentors from across the Western Hemisphere for three-week exchanges to the United States to promote mutual understanding, increase leadership skills, and prepare youth to make a difference in their communities.

Youth Ambassadors explore cities and communities across the U.S. during their exchange. This cohort from Argentina and Chile started their exchange in Washington, DC, where they learned about U.S. history and culture. Then the group split up and fanned out to Kansas City, Missouri, and Denver, Colorado, for nearly two weeks to live with U.S. families and become part of local communities. The host community segment of the exchange was implemented in partnership with Global Ties KC and WorldDenver, members of the Global Ties Alliance. Finally, they returned to Washington, DC, where they developed and presented their ideas for projects they would carry out in their home communities upon their return.

World Learning caught up with the group at the beginning and end of the exchange to find out what difference that three weeks made. Among them was Paula Castro, a participant from Mendoza, Argentina who said, “I had no idea how many doors would be opened for me. Now I just see the world differently. I just want to keep on doing this, keep on inspiring, keep on traveling, and keep on learning things. This was easily the best experience of my life.”

Read more about her experience and that of her fellow Youth Ambassadors below:


José I Vieux
Diamante, Argentina

José I Vieux has always longed to see the world. Having only ever visited countries bordering his native Argentina, he jumped at the opportunity to travel to the U.S. as a Youth Ambassador — a program that also matched his interests in learning more about politics and leadership. He was especially excited for a homestay in Kansas City. He didn’t know what to expect from that adventure into the heart of the U.S., but planned to keep his eyes wide open. “You get to know a whole different culture,” he said. “This is a whole different world.”

For José, the happiest memory of his trip was meeting the family that he lived with during his stay in Kansas City. Throughout his stay, the family — two parents, a younger sister, and an older brother — took him out for dinner and other activities. “I can assure you that the most impressive and best thing that this program gives you is the host family,” he said. “I got to know the American life from the inside.”

Though he didn’t share the same political perspectives as his host family, living with them gave him the opportunity to understand them, and shattered some of his stereotypes about American people.

Alexia Paz
Iquique, Chile

Alexia Paz believes serving her community — through beach clean-ups, visiting with senior citizens, and volunteering with animal shelters — has made her a better person. She joined the Youth Ambassadors Program at the recommendation of her teacher in the English Access Microscholarship Program, thinking it could help her improve her English and her ability to serve. She was most excited to start working on her community project, which she envisioned would involve providing services for orphans. “I’m not just learning English,” she said. “I’m learning values. I’m learning how to make those values work. I’m learning how to be useful in my community.”

Alexia found new inspiration for her community project during her stay in Kansas City. Through excursions and site visits, the Youth Ambassadors met with local firefighters and organizations like Operation Breakthrough, which provides support to children and their families struggling with poverty. These meetings helped Alexia better understand what she could do to help children in her own city of Iquique. “I have a lot of ideas in my mind now,” she said. Realizing that her city’s bureaucracy might make it impossible to work with orphans, she decided instead to work with children ages 4 to 12, offering them a healthy space to forget about their problems through games and fun activities. “So it’s more close to me and more real.”

Nehuen Salazar
Temuco, Chile

Nehuen Salazar fights for gender and LGBTQ equality. Over the past year, he’s worked to raise awareness in his high school about these issues, encouraging students and teachers to talk about gender identity and stereotypes. He applied to join the Youth Ambassadors Program to help sharpen his leadership skills and become an even more effective advocate. He was particularly interested in improving his social skills, which he thinks are critical in getting people to talk about these issues. “I want to help and be a supporting person for my classmates and learn to feel like a better person,” he said.


Though Nehuen may not have been prepared for the weather in Denver — which was particularly cold compared to his home in southern Chile — he was inspired by all he had the opportunity to do there. The Youth Ambassadors volunteered with a local food bank, visited a library dedicated to African-American history, met with refugees and immigrants, and took leadership workshops. These experiences have helped Nehuen achieve all that he set out to do. “I really feel that I have improved my skills and my abilities,” he said. “Now it’s easier for me to make any project starting from zero. I don’t have the fear that I cannot do what I want to do. I’m more confident about myself.”

Paula Castro
Mendoza, Argentina

Paula Castro loves being involved in her community. She’s a member of Model UN and a student-body legislator at her school, where she’s interested in helping students learn how to train their brains to study more effectively. She was excited to apply for the Youth Ambassadors Program since it offered her a chance to carry out a project that could create change in her community, but she also had another important goal in mind: to improve her own skills — in leadership, empathy, and more — so that she can inspire others. “I think as a young woman I have the job to inspire any woman, any person, to be better, to make a change,” she said.

Paula was amazed by the changes she saw in her fellow Youth Ambassadors when they all reconvened in Washington, DC, after their stays in Kansas City and Denver. “I really see how they improved,” she says. “They’re more outgoing and confident about themselves.” She sees those changes in herself, too. Though she’d been a bit worried about whether she’d fit in with her host family in just 12 days, she found she adapted quickly and became so close to her host sister that they began to consider themselves best friends. “My goal was to learn about other ways of thinking and to see things from different positions, be more empathetic, and to inspire,” she said. “I really expected the program to make me that person and I think it has. I’m not the same as before. I think I’ve gotten better. We all have.”

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars

Participant Profile

Participants are alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and vary in age and level of expertise, but all will be engaged in the seminar topic and highly motivated to create change in their communities.

Please consult the list of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs below.

Participant Selection

Alumni TIES participants who are not U.S. citizens are nominated by the U.S. Embassies or Consulates in their countries. Please contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country to learn how you can participate in Alumni TIES. Potential Alumni TIES participants who are living in the United States can apply for specific seminars managed by World Learning. The web link to the online application will be distributed widely by the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

All participants for Alumni TIES seminars are selected by the U.S. Department of State.

Program Design

Alumni TIES seminars take place in six world regions and the U.S.; each seminar is three to four days for small groups of alumni. The seminars include speakers, capacity development trainings, and alumni networking activities. Through the small grants initiative, alumni have the opportunity to take action and make a positive difference in their communities.

Learn More

Watch more videos about the Alumni TIES program.

Read stories from past participants about their experiences at the seminars or with their small grant projects on the Alumni TIES blog.

For information on programs for U.S. government-sponsored exchange program alumni visit the International Exchange Alumni website.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).  

Digital Communication Network

Examples of Past Digital Communication Network Projects

  • Internet vs. Democracy Forum
  • Roaring 20s #Digital Forum
  • Combatting Disinformation Training Program
  • Digital and Media Literacy for NGOs Training Program
  • Tolerance and Coexistence 2.0 Forum
  • Montenegro Digital Influencers Hub
  • Humor and Games for Social Good Forum

Fulbright Specialist Program


Link U.S. Experts and International Institutions

A program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Specialist Program is a unique opportunity for U.S. academics and established professionals to engage in two- to six-week consultancies at host institutions across the globe. Host institutions, including universities, non-profits, and other organizations, develop and submit projects for approval by the U.S. Embassy or Fulbright Commission in their country in wide-ranging academic and professional fields that build capacity and promote long-lasting linkages between individuals and institutions in the U.S. and abroad.


Address Priorities and Build Institutional Capacity at Institutions Around the World

An important companion to the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program, the Fulbright Specialist Program differs by providing short-term exchange experiences that tackle discrete, sometimes rapid response, projects. The Fulbright Specialist Program encourages participation of both university faculty and highly experienced non-academics, including legal experts, business professionals, public health practitioners, scientists, IT professionals, artists, and journalists. The program is a mutually beneficial opportunity for the Specialist who may not be available to leave their position for an extended period of time and the host institution which needs an experienced partner to jointly tackle a problem or examine an issue on a short-term basis.


Become a Fulbright Specialist: Apply to Join the Roster

Fulbright Specialists are a diverse group of highly experienced, well-established faculty members and professionals who represent a wide variety of academic disciplines and professions.  In order to be eligible to serve as a Fulbright Specialist, candidates must have significant experience in their respective professional field and be a U.S. citizen at time of application. Eligible disciplines and professional fields supported by the Fulbright Specialist Program are listed below.

  • Agriculture
  • American Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Archeology
  • Biology Education
  • Business Administration
  • Chemistry Education
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Science and Information Technology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering Education
  • Environmental Science
  • Law
  • Library Science
  • Math Education
  • Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies
  • Physics Education
  • Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Public/Global Health
  • Social Work
  • Sociology
  • Urban Planning

Interested candidates can find more information about the Fulbright Specialist Program and apply to serve as a Specialist at Candidates who meet all eligibility requirements will have their full applications reviewed by a panel of their professional peers. Candidates who are approved by the peer review panels will then join the Fulbright Specialist Roster. Individuals remain on the Specialist Roster for a three-year term and are eligible to be matched with a host institution’s project abroad during that tenure.

The following costs are covered for those Fulbright Specialists who are matched to a project: international and domestic airfare, ground transportation, visa fees, lodging, meals, and incidentals. A daily honorarium is also provided.

Become a Host: Bring a Fulbright Specialist to Your Institution

The Fulbright Specialist Program allows universities, cultural centers, non-governmental organizations, and other institutions abroad to host a leading U.S. academic or professional to work on diverse, short-term collaborative projects where the Specialist conducts activities which may include, but are not limited to:

  • Delivering a seminar or workshop
  • Consulting on faculty or workforce development
  • Developing academic or training curricula and materials
  • Lecturing at the graduate or undergraduate level
  • Conducting needs assessments or evaluations for a program or institution

Institutions interested in hosting a Fulbright Specialist should contact their local Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy for country-specific requirements and deadlines.

Contact information for all participating countries is available on the website.

For more information or questions about the Fulbright Specialist Program, please email [email protected].

The Fulbright Specialist Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning.

International Visitor Leadership Program

End of Year Report

Chosen by U.S. embassies worldwide to participate, distinguished professionals include:

  • parliamentarians
  • government officials
  • entrepreneurs
  • NGO leaders
  • journalists
  • academics
  • arts administrators
  • mid-career professionals

Programs focus on policy issues in areas such as:

  • government
  • international security
  • foreign policy
  • entrepreneurship
  • economics and trade
  • media
  • women’s leadership
  • education
  • public health
  • arts
  • agriculture
  • disability rights and inclusion

World Learning staff members design national itineraries, arrange logistics, set up meetings in Washington, DC, and coordinate the collaboration of U.S. Department of State program officers, interpreters and International Visitor Liaisons, and more than 85 community-based member organizations from the Global Ties U.S. Network who arrange local programs nationwide.


Most participants are mid-career professionals and emerging leaders, and for many, this is their first visit to the U.S. Groups are of varying sizes, from single visitors to groups of 25 or more. World Learning program staff work closely with their State Department counterparts to design a program customized to the project objectives and the visitors’ interests.


Participant Selection

IVLP candidates are selected solely by U.S. embassy personnel in each country. There is no application form. World Learning is a private sector partner of the U.S. Department of State; our role is limited to designing programs for participants once they arrive in the U.S. For further information regarding the program, please consult the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Program Design

A typical project includes up to a week of meetings in Washington, DC, to provide an orientation and overview of the theme and to introduce visitors to federal officials and agencies, national organizations, academics and think tanks, nonprofits and NGOs, and professionals in their specific field of interest. All projects include a briefing on the US federal system of government. Meetings may include panel discussions, site visits, workshops, individual interlocutors, job shadowing, or service opportunities. Visitors typically travel to an additional three or four cities in geographically diverse regions of the country; the itinerary may include a state capital and a small town to provide first-hand exposure to the great diversity that exists in the U.S. Also included in the program design are hospitality dinners, school visits, community service activities, and cultural events such as rodeos, state fairs, festivals, visits to national parks, or events that highlight some unique aspect of the region visited.

Participant Experience

“My recent experience in the IVLP program is so far the deepest ever for me to see and understand the full picture of what America as a country is like. I strongly believe this program will have a very long-term impact on my views about America and the world and to some extent it has already helped me to understand many long-time questions.” – Journalist from China

The International Visitor Leadership Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning.

Youth Ambassadors Program

In-Person Youth Ambassadors Programs:

Three-week, Youth Ambassadors programs commence in various locations across the United States, including San Francisco, CA; Washington, DC; or in Brattleboro, VT. Participants then travel in smaller cohorts to host communities across the country. All inbound programs include a segment in Washington, DC.

The U.S. Youth Ambassadors exchanges follow a similar program cycle, beginning with a U.S.-based pre-departure orientation, followed by international travel to the exchange country. Three-week, single, and multi-country exchanges take place between June – August; exact dates will vary by exchange country.

The Adult Mentor Role:

The Adult Mentor, or Adult Educator, role is an important part of the Youth Ambassadors Program. These adult program participants support the development of group cohesion and community among program participants; assist youth participants in cultural exploration; engage youth participants in learning and help connect their experiences to their Community-Based Service Initiatives; and continue mentorship development following the virtual or in-person exchange by supporting youth participant project implementation. Youth Ambassadors Adult Educators will:

  • Facilitate participants’ progress on program activities. This may include supporting Youth Ambassadors Program staff with check-ins on individual participants’ progress; and providing insights, guidance, and encouragement on participants’ assignments and discussions.
  • Build the capacity of participants. A key role of the adult educators is to build the capacity of youth participants by enabling them to solve issues or problems as they arise. Youth Ambassadors Program staff do not expect adult educators to solve problems, but rather to empower students to solve their issues/problems themselves.
  • Serve as a resource. Adult Educators will serve as a resource for the student teams by sharing their technical expertise, organizational experience, professional networks, and life experience. In other words, if youth participants have questions and are in need of resources to get to the next level, adult educators should point them in the right direction, based on their experience and connections. Following the program, Adult Educators will support youth participants as they implement their community projects. Adult Educators will be available for questions and guidance as participants need.
  • Act as a cultural bridge. Adult Educators serve as a “cultural bridge” if youth participants have difficulty understanding each other or any part of the program.

Connect with Youth Ambassadors

Contact Us

Questions? Contact our Admissions Office at [email protected] or at 1-877-591-9626 inside the U.S. or at 1-802-258-3485 outside the U.S.

Youth Ambassadors is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government. The program is administered by World Learning in partnership with Amigos de las Américas and Georgetown University CIED.