It Always Starts With an Exchange

Melissa Golladay, Director, Professional Leadership Exchanges and Youth Engagement

It always starts with an exchange. Through exchange and fellowship programs, Partners of the Americas provides individuals and organizations the opportunity to connect across borders, serve new communities, and ultimately change their life and the lives of others. Over the past 50 years, Partners has used exchanges as a tool to build projects and sustain those projects over time, to leverage contributions from local organizations, to connect people and link them to new opportunities, and to help individuals and organizations build new skills and share knowledge, ultimately allowing them to work better and scale their impact.

Exchange and fellowship programs serve to advance each part of the Partners’ mission. Furthermore, they work directly with Partners’ network of volunteers, chapters, organizations, and institutions, providing opportunities to network members, as well as recruiting new individuals and organizations to join our work. In the past 20 years, Partners has facilitated over 2,500 exchanges and fellowships with over 20 countries.

Fundamentally, exchange and fellowship programs connect people; bridging divides to bring people together across borders. In addition to bridging cultural barriers and building mutual understanding, exchange and fellowship programs allow individuals and organizations to connect their common interests and passions, as well as their common challenges and solutions.

Exchange and fellowship programs help people to serve both their own communities, and the communities which hosted them. They bring people together to jointly implement projects in a host community, allow for cross-cultural workshops and trainings, and permit in-depth sharing of knowledge among people and organizations. While activities often take place in a host community, individuals who participate in exchange and fellowship programs often continue to serve their home communities, using the new knowledge and information from their exchange experience.

In all cases, the individual completing the exchange or fellowship has a life changing experience. Exchanges and fellowships allow individuals to use new skills, speak new languages, and live in new environments. But exchange and fellowship programs also change lives on a broader scale, as individuals share what they’ve learned with others, and maintain new relationships over time. 

Through exchanges and fellowships between Uruguay and Minnesota, Uruguay has passed legislation to create a probation program for felons, both providing new opportunities for reform of prisoners and easing drastic overcrowding issues in Uruguayan prisons. In Bolivia, exchanges of teachers and social workers with professionals in Arkansas and North Carolina have provided new methodologies and techniques to work with and educate children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. 

Fellowships have resulted in a new MOU between Virginia Tech University and the University of Belize to provide additional and specialized training to Belizean students in land resource management, resulting in stronger relationships with private sector companies. In Chile and Costa Rica, new business relationships have opened up between specialty food suppliers and U.S. businesses, providing new markets for both Chilean and Costa Rican, and U.S. small companies. In Paraguay, fellowships allowed individuals working in the Supreme Court to develop programs to engage at-risk youth at the community level, thereby reducing the disproportionate number of minorities confined in juvenile justice systems.

Over the next 50 years, Partners will work to further expand exchange and fellowship opportunities to bring together even more individuals and organizations. As these programs grow, we strive to provide more opportunities to emerging leaders within the Partners’ community as well as young professionals looking to connect their professional and personal passions through service. In addition, we are now working to build stronger institutional relationships with organizations that participate in exchange and fellowship programs.