Celebrating the Importance of Virtual Exchanges on National STEM Day

By World Learning Program Associate Katya Murillo and Intern Taieb Cherif

Climate change, food security and sanitation, healthcare, and gender equality are just a few of the many grand challenges countries across the globe face today, and in an increasingly global world we recognize that we must work together to solve them creatively. But how?

On this National STEM Day, World Learning recognizes the power of STEM education as a driving force of change. In SyriaEthiopia, and Algeria among others, our STEM programs have transformed the lives of young people by exposing them to new career opportunities and experiences. Last month, World Learning launched a new program that will continue to use STEM education as a driving force of change: The NextGen Coders Network (NGCN).

This virtual exchange program will bring together university students and young professionals from Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, and the United States through “hackathons.” From the comfort of their own homes, local libraries, or university campuses, participants will use coding skills to design solutions to their countries’ grand challenges. This format fosters greater cultural understanding between U.S. and international participants as they work both individually and in groups and collaborate across borders and professional backgrounds. At the end of each of the program’s four cycles, participants will have an opportunity to showcase their prototypes in a virtual “Ideas Festival.” NGCN is funded by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding from the U.S. government, and administered by the Aspen Institute.

Through NGCN, World Learning aims to highlight the importance of STEM education in finding innovative solutions to our world’s complex problems. The NGCN curriculum spans over 10 weeks and introduces participants to coding languages and concepts like project management and design thinking. It comprises 15 modules that cater to the different needs of participants, while developing and strengthening hard skills that will give participants the confidence to thrive in a technological age. This curriculum allows students to not only gain knowledge in STEM areas, but to think critically and resourcefully about the change they can create in the world.

World Learning knows the world’s grand challenges require diverse perspectives and backgrounds to work together and learn from each other’s successes and failures. It might even be that a solution already exists, and the next challenge is figuring out how to scale the solutions for all to benefit. That is why NGCN emphasizes the multidisciplinary nature of the virtual exchange, bringing together an international cohort of students and young professionals who do not exclusively come from a computer science background, as the name of the program might suggest. Thus, participants can benefit from the multiplicity of perspectives and areas of expertise.

Solving global issues necessitates a deep intercultural understanding among people across the world. With more than 86 years of experience running international exchange programs, World Learning, through NGCN, aims to promote virtual exchange as a way to create a generation of globally and culturally aware citizens. Such programs have the capacity to empower young people and give them a new window to the world at low economic and social costs.

Reflecting on what drew him to this program, Aryan Wadhwani, a participant from Indiana University, expressed that he is fascinated by the idea of a virtual exchange and sees in it as an opportunity to “learn about the experiences of people from different cultures” and “come up with ideas to solve real-world problems.”

World Learning looks forward to seeing how Aryan and his peers will go on to drive change in their communities, countries, and beyond.

How an Exchange Program Helped One West Bank Lawyer Resolve Conflict

Improving the lives of citizens of the West Bank through free legal care has been at the core of Moien Odeh’s career as a human rights lawyer.

Once a tax attorney, Odeh longed to use his legal skills to benefit the community in a more direct way, and when he saw that the ongoing Israel — Palestine conflict showed no signs abating, he took action.

“I worked for the biggest tax law firm in Israel, but I discovered that all I was doing was making rich people richer, so I decided it was time for me to start giving back to the community.”

Odeh started his own firm, Odeh and Partners, Co. The firm works largely on housing demolition disputes, specifically with those living in conflict zones near Jerusalem.

He says he decided to work in these areas because many neighborhoods lack municipal, infrastructure, and legal services.

After seeing an advertisement on the U.S. Consulate website, Odeh applied to participate in the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship (LDF), an exchange program run by the non-profit World Learning and funded by the U.S. Department of State that brings young leaders from the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region to the U.S.

Odeh says after meeting the other participants, he learned more about the issues their countries have faced and how they dealt with them.

“Sometimes when you’re surrounded by your own problems you don’t often recognize that other people are going through similar problems as well,” he says.

The program enabled Odeh to intern at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he wrote a paper on the international community’s intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During his time at the Wilson Center, Odeh met highly-networked people who would eventually help him look at the conflict in his home country through a different lens.

“[My supervisors] gave me a different perspective which I never thought about. This changed my view on U.S. policy itself, and might also change the way we work back home,” he adds.

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).  

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 fulbrightspecialist.worldlearning.org. 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 fulbrightspecialist.worldlearning.org 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.

EducationUSA Academy

For further information: [email protected]

“Through EducationUSA Academy, I made new friends from all over the world, I learned about the American education system and requirements for getting accepted to an American university, and I visited one of the most interesting places in the United States in a friendly and helpful group.” -2017 EducationUSA Academy participant

Student Eligibility

Participants must:

  • Be students (currently enrolled or recently graduated), ages 15-18 at the time of the summer program;
  • Have at least three years of middle to high school English language study (language requirements may vary slightly by institution);
  • Be mature and self-disciplined, with a commitment to active participation in the Academy and its programming;
  • Aspire to pursue a portion of their higher education in the U.S.; and
  • Have sufficient personal funds to cover program fees and international airfare.

More information is available from your local EducationUSA adviser. To find your local EducationUSA advising center, please visit the EducationUSA website.

Follow the program on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


EducationUSA Academy is sponsored by 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.

Leaders Lead On-Demand Program

Examples of past leaders Lead On-Demand Projects:

  • Vietnam Legal Aid
  • Refugee Integration and Resettlement in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Sports Leadership Program for Colombia
  • Mongolia Disability Rights Legislation and Implementation
  • Promoting Open Educational Resources: Middle East and North Africa
  • Tourism and Development in Serbia and Kosovo
  • Religious Freedom and Interfaith Dialogue for Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand
  • Emerging Leaders Exchange for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
  • Environmental Advocacy for Mongolia
  • Getting Connected Program for the South Pacific
  • Civic Engagement Program for Moldova
  • Disinformation and Fact Checking in Kenya

The Leaders Lead On-Demand is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning.

Special Programs to Address the Needs of Survivors

Grantees of the program included: 

Albanian Disability Rights Foundation, Al Hussein Society, Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya, Buckner International, Catholic Relief Services, The Center for Victims of Torture, Christian Blind Mission International, Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, CURE International, EveryChild, Friends International, Global Communities, Handicap International, Health Volunteers Overseas, International Nepal Fellowship, International Rescue Committee, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mobility India, Motivation Charitable Trust, Motivation Romania Foundation, St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy Wheels for Humanity, University of Iowa, University of Pittsburgh – International Society of Wheelchair Professionals, Whirlwind Wheelchair International, World Institute on Disability, and World Vision.