Celebrating Decades of Youth Exchange
In a grand celebration of international diplomacy and the power of youth, the U.S. Department of State partnered with key governmental leaders, organizations, host families, and local coordinators to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), the 30th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange Program FLEX, and the 20th anniversary of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES).
The event, titled 'Celebrating the Power of Youth Exchange' was held at the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room at the State Department and brought together some 500 people, including representatives from CIEE.
Host Nicole Elkon, the deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange, opened the event by advocating for the power of exchange programs to change lives, echoing the sentiment expressed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who stated on January 27, 2021, "People-to-people exchanges bring our world closer together and convey the best of America to the world, especially to its young people."
Honoring the Past and Looking to the Future
The celebration was attended by leaders of international exchange who have played pivotal roles in the success of these programs. Notably, Senator Bill Bradley, who founded the FLEX program and authored the legislation that gave it life three decades ago, shared his insights. Senator Bradley is often referred to as the informal "father" of the FSA/FLEX exchange program. Alongside Congressman James Leach, he introduced the legislation to create the FREEDOM Support Act (FSA) Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program in 1992.
Today, with over 30,000 alumni, the FLEX program continues to be a force for positive change around the world, and Senator Bradley's involvement remains both a personal and professional source of pride.
Former Prime Minister of Moldova, Natalia Gavrilita, spoke about her time in the U.S. as part of the FLEX program, and how that experience shaped her life and sparked her dedication to public service. Her story is a testament to the transformational impact of these youth exchange programs.
Nikhil Patel, a CIEE CBYX Alum, presented on behalf of the CBYX program. Nikhil is the founder of Craniometrix, a company developing a user-friendly Alzheimer's test that can be taken on a smartphone. He was nominated for Forbes' 30 Under 30 for his groundbreaking work in Alzheimer's research.
He shared heartwarming stories from his time on the CBYX program, including that he still maintains a close bond with his host family and regularly video chats with them, exemplifying the lasting connections these programs foster.
A Special Message from Senator Angus King
Senator Angus King, unable to attend in person, sent a heartfelt video expressing his admiration for the program. He shared that he had hosted a YES student from Ghana in 2007, who was in attendance at the event, and that she was set to visit with his family in Maine for the next week, demonstrating the enduring relationships formed through these exchanges.
A Night to Remember
The Celebration of the Power of Youth Exchange was a poignant reminder of the enduring impact of programs like CBYX, FLEX, and YES. It brought together individuals whose lives had been indelibly shaped by these experiences, demonstrating the profound influence of international youth exchange programs on personal and professional growth.
As we look to the future, it's clear that these programs will continue to bridge cultures, foster connections, and create a better, more interconnected world.