International exchanges shape the leaders of communities and countries

During International Education Week (November 14-18), the United States celebrates its tradition of promoting understanding between Americans and citizens of other countries through people-to-people exchanges.

In 1940, the US State Department launched its first international exchange by inviting 130 Latin American journalists to visit American newsrooms.

(State Dept./Mr. Gregory)

This early exchange led to the creation, in 1946, of the Fulbright Program, which awards 8,000 scholarships each year to qualified applicants from the United States and abroad.

In 1961, the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs was launched to oversee all U.S. government academic, cultural, athletic, and professional exchange programs. Since then, the exchanges have served 1.7 million students, researchers, educators and scholars who live all over the world. They understand:

  • 86 alumni who have since won Nobel Prizes.
  • 120 that won Pulitzer Prizes.
  • 660 current and former Heads of State and Government.
  • 2,600 current and former senior ministers or Cabinet members.
  • 136 Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
  • Community leaders in a variety of professions.
Bar chart showing increase in U.S. citizens' participation in international exchange programs from 1980 to 2019 (State Dept./M. Gregory)
(State Dept./Mr. Gregory)

Today, 30 ambassadors to the United States are alumni of American exchange programs. And three heads of government are exchange alumni.

World map highlighting countries where more than 660 current or former heads of state or government are US State Department exchange alumni, with photos of three prominent alumni: prime ministers from the United Kingdom, Niger and New Zealand.  (Photos: © Alberto Pezzali/AP Images; Rory Arnold/No. 10 Downing Street; © Rick Rycroft/AP Images)
(State Dept./Mr. Gregory)

Rishi Sunakwho became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in October, received a Fulbright Award for Overseas Students to support his pursuit of an MBA at Stanford School of Business in 2005. Studying business in California’s Silicon Valley broadened his state of mind about what’s possible, Sunak said recently.

Ouhoumoudou MahamadouPrime Minister of Niger since April 2021, participated in a 2002-2003 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program at the University of Minnesota, where he studied administration and policy analysis.

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand since 2017, participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program in 2012 when she was an MP. His two-week travel itinerary in the United States included stops in Washington; Austin, TX; Dallas; and San Francisco, where she met with foreign policy experts.

Learn more about US exchange programs and how to apply as a US or non-US citizen.