75th Anniversary of Exchange Programs

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 5, 2015

This year, a teenage girl from the Middle East will discover how a young computer coder from New York got her start. A climate change expert from Latin America will see firsthand a solar plant in Florida, powers NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. And an American college student will learn to converse in Arabic over his summer break in Morocco.

Throughout 2015, we will be celebrating 75 years of State Department-sponsored exchange programs – programs that make day-to-day experiences just like these a possibility for millions of people across the globe.

I remember as a college student traveling one summer around Europe. With a close friend, I drove across France and Spain in an old English taxi cab, rescued from the taxi cab graveyard in London. We made it to Tuscany and even Pamplona where we ran with the bulls, and the bulls did their best to run into us. I spent those long-ago days soaking up different cultures, meeting new people, and exploring unfamiliar cities; they were some of the most fascinating and enriching days of my life. And they left me with the conviction that every time a student touches down in America, or a scholar crosses an ocean to study, the world grows a little bit closer and we understand each other more.

Since 1940, State Department has enabled nearly a million people to experience that feeling. We’ve helped foreign journalists explore the First Amendment and observe firsthand what freedom of speech really means on the IVLP. We’ve dispatched Fulbright Scholars to teach English in Laos and Argentina. We’ve convinced basketball coaches from Israel and the Palestinian territories to come together in the name of sports. And we’ve brought budding entrepreneurs from Africa to meet with U.S. business owners to exchange ideas and open both markets and minds.

There is no substitute for these opportunities. I’ve seen it time and time again – a lot can be accomplished through a handshake and a smile, a shared meal, or a conversation after class that is aided on both sides by a bilingual dictionary. I’m not saying that exchanges can cause all the big international problems to vanish overnight; nothing can. But when I travel, I am constantly running into foreign leaders who are better informed and more helpful, and they tell me so- because of the time they spent in America. And in Washington, I am answerable at all times to one of the most remarkable products of an international exchange program: the President of the United States.

One of the great American communicators, Edward R. Murrow, knew the power of person-to-person exchange. He spent many years overseas serving as the American people’s eyes, ears, and heart. Murrow once said that the crucial link in diplomacy “is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.”

I’m proud to say the State Department is helping to make it a little bit easier for us all to journey those last three feet – and that is an indispensable contribution to our diplomacy, to the interests, and ideals and that’s what will make a difference in the end.

Thank you.