Building bridges through cultural exchange

Three people smiling (© Kyle Klein Perler/Arts Connect International)
Exchange Visitor Program alumni Hyppolite Ntigurirwa, left, Andrea Gordillo, center, and Chanel Matsunami Govreau. The Exchange Visitor Program's private-sector programs have been reinvented as the BridgeUSA program. (© Kyle Klein Perler/Arts Connect International)

The United States values educational and cultural exchanges as important tools to help others better understand American culture, foreign policy, and perspectives.

BridgeUSA is the new operating name for the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program of private-sector exchanges. The educational and cultural exchange program has increased mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries by welcoming millions of people to the United States over the past 60 years.

In these exchanges, private-sector sponsors may place Exchange Visitors into 13 categories including Summer Work Travel, Intern, Teacher, and Au Pair.

Graphic saying 'BridgeUSA: Connecting global leaders, creating lasting impact' (State Dept.)

Through its new name, “BridgeUSA creates a more positive, professional, and relatable identity for private-sector programs,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce on October 27. “We are focused on more effectively communicating our mission and our program values.”

BridgeUSA builds people-to-people connections around the world through bridges of friendship among nations. The name brings the mission to the front: to cultivate a network of leaders that create lasting impact in their communities and our world.

Each year, BridgeUSA provides educational and cultural exchange opportunities for more than 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries and territories. The program allows opportunities for those who want to experience U.S. society and culture to interact with Americans in personal settings.

Group of people holding flags in front of Lincoln Memorial (© Cultural Homestay International)
Participants in the Exchange Visitor Program visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on August 14, 2017. (© Cultural Homestay International)

Exchange Visitors participate in a variety of cultural and educational programs, depending on their age and qualifications. Exchange Visitors can teach or study at accredited academic institutions in the United States, live with host families, or work and train with host organizations.

The State Department is committed to working with all program stakeholders to navigate a path forward to safely resuming in-person cultural exchanges, Royce said.

Man holding himself between rock walls in canyon (Courtesy of Viktor Vincej)
Viktor Vincej, who received a J-1 visa for Summer Work Travel, at the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. (Courtesy of Viktor Vincej)

“During the [U.S.] Civil War, President [Abraham] Lincoln moved forward with the construction of a new dome for the Capitol building. It was an expression of his confidence that a reunited Union would emerge,” Royce said. “The department has that same confidence in the bright future and continued impact of international exchange.”

“That’s why ECA is dedicating significant effort and resources to strengthening the branding of our exchange programs,” she said.