My First Time at the Alliance Conference

My First Time at the Alliance Conference

By: Fernando Vazquez, Associate Director of Compliance, Greenheart Exchange

On November 2-3, 2023, the Alliance for International Exchange held their annual conference in Washington D.C. This was my first time attending the conference and I was happy to have several colleagues in attendance to show me the ropes – Daniel Ebert, President of Greenheart International; Marcelle Benedicta, Vice President of Account Management and Marketing; Haldis Toppen, Communications Director; and Jessica Kissell, Senior Director, Account Management, Career Advancement Program and Teach USA.

This year, the Alliance was celebrating their 30th anniversary, a chance to reflect on the last 30 years. The conference has come a long way, from when they first met in a small conference room with less than 20 people to this year’s conference, which was the biggest thus far with more than 200 attendees. The future of the Alliance and exchange programs looks bright, which was evident with discussions on cultivating future leaders of this industry.

Speech by Assistant Secretary, Lee Satterfield

As mentioned before, this was my first time attending the conference and I was blown away at the sense of community between BridgeUSA sponsors, organizations and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). From the meet and greet session for first-time attendees to the camaraderie in between sessions, the conference showcased the bonds that have been cultivated over the last 30 years. I was able to ask questions and share best practices with my fellow BridgeUSA sponsor representatives.

As the exchange industry looks to the future, I am excited to see work on the below items:

  • Engagement with Consular Affairs: This year, the Alliance was able to invite two representatives from Consular Affairs and share their prospective on visa interview scheduling and trends. This session was very insightful and reassuring to hear that they are committed to prioritizing visa interviews for BridgeUSA participants. I see this session becoming a staple at the conference moving forward.
  • Professional Development for Young Professionals: Another session that made its’ debut at the conference this year was “Faces of the Future: The Next Generation of Exchange Leaders”. I was happy to hear that the Alliance is focused on providing resources to young professionals in the exchange industry and has created a young professionals working group. It’s important that we continue to develop this young talent and not let it slip away.
  • Proposed Regulations: The buzz at this year’s conference was the proposed regulation updates to the Au Pair category. Many people, including those who don’t work on this category, had a lot to say. And Au Pair is not the only category we can expect to see proposed language for. ECA stated that they have a plan to look at the current regulations and propose new language if necessary. Feedback from the exchange community will be vital.
  • Elections: Next year is an election year, so it is important that whoever is in office understands that importance of these programs. The exchange industry will need to continue to advocate for these programs and remind our elected officials of the crucial role these programs play in advancing our national security goals, which is something that was reiterated throughout the conference.

 I am thankful for the opportunity to attend and hope to come back in the future.

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