This Memorial Day, our country takes a collective breath: a moment of quietude to honor, remember, and celebrate those who lost their lives in battle, leaving behind a mutual legacy of peace and protection.

But as we look behind us in remembrance, so too must we look forward in expectation.

While we celebrate heroes of war, we also long for champions of peace. Boots firmly planted on peaceful soil.

And while in many respects the world has reached a new pinnacle of complexity, one quite “old fashioned” idea still rings true: lasting change begins with PEOPLE. (And “people” are OUR specialty!)

we_do_not_see_things_as_they_areIt’s fascinating to note that the foreign exchange program continues as perhaps the largest grass-roots effort in public diplomacy. It’s purpose and reach, among other things, is to positively impact international opinions of America. After all, a person’s perception of reality goes only as far as their limited personal experience. When our most intimate life experiences shift, so do our assumptions about the world and our interactions within it.

The idea is quite simple, really: a student who learns to love a family, school, and group of friends in his or her host country will bring a positive worldview home.

Multiply this by a million or more people spread over years and throughout all nations – and you have a spark that can light up the face of the planet.

Student exchange is more than just soccer games and prom dates. It’s more than good-natured fumbles and peculiar fascinations. It’s an agent of change, of growth, and with any luck, of PEACE.

From our families to yours: Happy Memorial Day.