An IVLP Experience: A Friendship with the United States
What is IVLP?
The International Center plays a vital role in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. State Department’s exchange program for professionals around the world. As IVLP participants, current and emerging international leaders experience and learn in the United States in their field of work and create connections with their American counterparts.
The International Center develops programs for international visitors in Indiana and is the only IVLP hosting organization in the Hoosier state. While current visits look different due to COVID-19, The Center is working hard to give participants a memorable virtual experience.
Raphael Edou was a participant in the IVLP in 2010. When he was selected, he held the position as the president advisor for the local government in his home of Benin in western Africa. His program’s focus was professional engagement in public services, and he noticed a common theme of honesty and openness in the U.S. government that he admired.
Raphael and other IVLP participants at the IVLP Alumni General Assembly
When he returned to Benin after his IVLP experience, he became the minister in charge of the local government in 2011. “I remember my experience in the U.S. with transparency, and that was my focus point during my two-year term,” he says.
During Mr. Edou’s IVLP experience, he met many people and built lifelong friendships, spending time with home hospitality hosts where he would get to know volunteers in their homes over a shared meal. He recalled a particular meal with a family in Michigan. They were able to discuss many things and remain in touch to this day.
Over dinner they discussed their cultures by talking about food, political systems, music, raising children, and marriage. Mr. Edou noted, “It was amazing to see how people were interested to understand other cultures.”
In addition, Mr. Edou keeps in touch with the other participants from his trip, and when travelling somewhere new, he looks for someone in that country that also participated in IVLP because he immediately has someone to connect with.
The 2010 IVLP experience was not Mr. Edou’s first time in the U.S., as he had previously spent eight months in South Bend, Indiana when he became proficient in English. During this time, he was able to visit Indianapolis and felt so at home in Indy that he sent his children to college at IUPUI, where they stayed with a Hoosier host family during their experience. Mr. Edou was impressed and thankful for the family’s hospitality and that they shared both their homes and their love with his children.
Now, Mr. Edou lives in Indianapolis and considers Indy to be his favorite city in the U.S.
Mr. Edou’s Thoughts on IVLP
Mr. Edou enjoyed his experience with IVLP and wants the program to continue, giving even more people these experiences. He wants Indiana and The International Center to have a more involved role as well because of his growing love for Indianapolis. He says, “I want the families here to understand the program and get involved, and I want families to get to share experiences with visitors. “
Mr. Edou also reflects on how the IVLP expanded his knowledge of global business and created a global network. One of his final notes about the program was that he wanted more people to understand the positive impacts it provides. “All participants become friends of the United States. So everywhere we are, we are connected. That is something that is really important because we come here, and we learn a lot from this culture, and then we share it with other people.”
Check out our website to get involved in the IVLP program in Indianapolis, either by becoming a home hospitality host or a volunteer!
By Chloe Reisinger