August 3, 2020
Q. You are the President & CEO of Global Ties US, the largest and oldest citizen diplomacy network in the United States. How would you define citizen diplomacy and the role of your organization in the field?
The mission of Global Ties US is to make international exchange programs more effective in partnership with our citizen diplomacy network, the domestic infrastructure for US public diplomacy efforts. Together, we believe international exchange programs are powerful experiences that can change a person’s worldview, while also connecting them with new skills and networks that help them thrive. They also help to build relationships and trust that matter in international affairs and drive economic impact in communities.
We’re extraordinarily proud of the impact our citizen diplomat colleagues have made locally and globally. Citizen diplomats represent the United States informally and build relationships with the world’s emerging leaders, connecting them with a multi-dimensional America and introducing them to the cities, people, institutions, and cultures that make our country so dynamic. While we primarily support the State Department’s 80-year-old International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which has brought more than 500 current or former heads of state to American cities through our network, our citizen diplomats also welcome emerging leaders through a host of other virtual and in-person exchange programs.
Q. You started your career in the National Security Council at the White House. Where does this passion for politics and diplomacy come from and how did this experience shape the rest of your career?
It actually came from an exchange program. I was a high school exchange student in the 90s in Denmark and my worldview was instantly transformed. Being in Europe after the end of the Cold War was exciting, but suddenly having to explain the United States and its foreign policy to my classmates was very humbling. I knew little about the world and my country and decided to pursue a degree in international relations. I was very lucky to first intern in the NSC Press Office in 2000 and later become an assistant to the National Security Advisor until late 2003. So much happened in those three years: 9/11 and the beginning of US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both positions, I became intrigued with the relationships that drive international affairs, and the role that the news media plays in shaping our global perceptions of each other.
Q. Your book, Your Country, Our War: The Press and Diplomacy in Afghanistan, was published last year and is based on eight years of interviews in Kabul, Washington, DC, and New York. Can you tell us about your background in journalism and the process of writing this book?
I wrote the book in pieces over more than a decade. I first arrived in Kabul in November 2003 as a communications advisor at the US Embassy in Afghanistan. I was already fascinated with the interplay of media and international relations and that exponentially increased when I started to work with American and Afghan journalists, who were reporting Afghanistan for their audiences in two very different ways. In essence, that became the book: how the American news media’s projection of Afghanistan affected US-Afghan relations. The lessons I learned working at the embassy drove me to Columbia University’s School of Journalism for six years, where I studied for my doctorate in communications, focusing on the global effects of American news. I returned to Kabul for research whenever I could. About three years after I defended my dissertation, I finally got serious about turning it into a book. Academic publishing requires several levels of review and scrutiny, which sharpened the book considerably. It was finally complete 15 years after I first arrived in Kabul. I tell everyone that if they have a book idea, to start writing and stick with all the ups and downs of the process. With persistence, it will come together.
Q. In this period of uncertainty and change, what are your goals for Global Ties in the future?
2020 has been a year of great disruption for the international exchange field, but also one of significant innovation and modernization. We’re currently supporting our non-profit citizen diplomacy network in turning traditional in-person exchange programs into virtual ones, which is profoundly more complicated – both technically and substantively – than it sounds.
We also have a lot of work to do to ensure there is diversity, equity, and inclusion in the international exchanges field. Our network must reflect the United States’ rich diversity and ensure we’re empowering the next generation of public diplomats who can truly represent our dynamic citizens. We have a tremendous opportunity to do so through our work recruiting Youth Ambassadors and Cultural Performers for the US Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, set to begin in October 2021 due to COVID. The Americans we recruit for the Pavilion may be the only ones that Expo visitors may ever meet, so we’re very focused on ensuring that they represent a diversity of communities, backgrounds, and experiences.
Q. You’re a French-American Foundation Young Leader from the class of 2018. What were some highlights of your experience in the program? Do you have any advice for the new class of Young Leaders or those who might be interested in applying?
I loved my time as a French-American Foundation Young Leader and wish I could start over. For those of you applying, I recommend getting creative with your application to reflect who you are and not just what you do. The highlight for me was the 2018 and 2019 cohorts and their diverse areas of expertise and personalities. I’m excited for the new class to start their program! My main advice for all of you starting is to try to really unplug from your day job and be as present as possible to those around you. Opportunities for exchanges like this are rare when you’re this advanced in your career. Also, as much as possible, try to spend time with your counterparts not from your country. France and America have a wonderful history of friendship and it’s important that we know one another today, as the challenges we face together are vast.