Youth Ambassadors Alumni Summit celebrates 20 years of exchange opportunities for youth
By Eric House
World Learning hosted the Youth Ambassadors Alumni Summit last week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Youth Ambassadors Program. A total of 75 alumni representing more than 20 countries attended the summit held in Washington, DC.
Lee Satterfield, assistant secretary of state for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational Cultural Affairs, and World Learning CEO Carol Jenkins kicked off the summit with opening remarks that reflected on the power of people-to-people exchange programs like the Youth Ambassadors Program. Since 2002, the program has brought together high school students and adult mentors from across the Western Hemisphere through in-person or virtual exchange programs.
“People-to-people exchanges bring foreign policy to life. They help open the avenues of communication, collaboration, and action,” Satterfield said. “All of you have put what you’ve learned about inclusive, representative leadership to work, thereby strengthening democratic institutions in your communities and countries.”
Jenkins expanded on this idea, noting that the alumni represent a rising generation of new leaders with a shared desire to make a change in the world.
“As Youth Ambassadors alumni, you have led as responsible changemakers tackling pressing social and economic issues in your schools and communities through the development and implementation of community-based initiatives and follow-on projects,” Jenkins said.
The summit included five days of community-building and professional development opportunities. Alumni could attend community dialogue sessions, a graduate school and career fair, and workshops focused on topics such as women in leadership, effective advocacy, and cross-cultural communication. Overall, the summit provided a chance for alumni to connect with peers and further develop their professional skills, as well as reflect on their experiences when they were in the Youth Ambassador Program.
“The biggest thing that I learned from Youth Ambassadors is the idea of being the humble servant,” Mia Harrison, a U.S. student who participated in a 2021 virtual exchange with Uruguay and Paraguay, said. “We have the ability to not speak for a group of people, but instead give the microphone over to that group to speak. And that’s what I think a lot of young people, especially the U.S. students, get from the program.”
Shawnalee Gordon, who traveled from Dominica to the U.S. in 2019 to learn more about environmental protection, valued the opportunity to immerse herself in a new culture through Youth Ambassadors. “It really fostered my cultural awareness,” she said. “I actually got to immerse in the culture and in a new environment, and tackle stereotypes I may have had about the U.S.”
For Gordon, the summit was also a chance to broaden her growing network with like-minded individuals. “I was excited to get to know people from Latin America, from different states in the U.S., and expand my network,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures, exchange ideas, and come up with solutions because, at the end of the day, we’re all a part of one global society.”
Twenty years ago, the Youth Ambassadors Program started as a 12-student exchange from Brazil. Today, it has expanded to nearly 500 students and educators from more than 30 countries participating annually.
Through their exchanges, the participants explore themes like social inclusion, entrepreneurship, and environmental protection while engaging in experiential learning activities; leadership training and mentoring; and civic participation and volunteering at the local level.
The Youth Ambassadors Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational Cultural Affairs and administered by World Learning in partnership with Georgetown University and the nonprofit Amigos de las Américas.