For Courtney Brooks, the chance to travel abroad as a young teenager set the course of her life. Now serving as the Global Ties KC Executive Director, Brooks is determined to pay the opportunity forward, and to provide as many students in the Midwest with the same chance to experience the world as she had, through connections made through exchanges, and the Youth Diplomats program.
Her first taste of international exchange came through a People to People exchange to Europe in middle school. This led to her family hosting a student from Brazil on a short-term Rotary Exchange program with Brooks traveling to Brazil for a summer, quickly followed-up by a year-long Rotary Exchange to Argentina. As a high school junior, she set a goal to visit all seven continents by the age of 28. Having hit that mark, and settling down in Kansas City, Missouri, her main drive now is finding ways to create a similar curiosity of cultures and desire for connection in the next generation.
Over the last nine years at the helm of Global Ties Kansas City, Brooks has welcomed thousands of visitors from every corner of the globe to the greater KC area. “I know that not everyone can get on a plane to Bhutan, or Fiji, or Mozambique. But through the International Visitor Leadership Program, we get to bring leaders from around the world here. Families, professionals, and students in the U.S. can experience other cultures, without ever having to get on a plane. Through our programs, entire classrooms of students have been able to talk to Members of Parliament from across Europe, Generals from Afghanistan, and other high school students, from over 15 different countries. It’s one thing to read about current events in the news. It’s much easier to care when you have met someone from that nation,” says Courtney Brooks.
The ripple effects of these program are far reaching; not only for the international program participants working in an array of fields—trafficking in persons, transparency in government, rule of law—but also for the Americans who have new friends across the world.
Global Ties KC has continued to partner with the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other governmental organizations on a range of international exchange programs. The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) connects current and future leaders from around the world to their U.S. counterparts through programs specifically designed with the participants interests and U.S. foreign policy goals in mind. The IVLP has served more than 225,000 individuals in its 80-year history and Global Ties KC has been an implementing partner for the past 65.
Brooks took on the role of Executive Director at Global Ties KC in 2013. While the organization had been involved in youth programming for a few years, she was thrilled to lean heavily into this portion of the organizations work. Today, Global Ties KC hosts anywhere from three to five short-term U.S. Department of State exchange programs each year.
In recent years, Global Ties KC has taken their programs one-step further, with the creation of the Youth Diplomat program. This nine-month experiential learning program was designed by the Global Ties KC team to equip teens in Kansas and Missouri with the tools necessary for success in a global society. The have one-on-one meetings with international diplomats, international visitors, and local Kansas City business leaders. Additionally, students participate in workshops and seminars to expand their professional toolbox.
The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased truly how interconnected our world is and that is more imperative now than ever for our future leaders to understand their place in a global society. Throughout the pandemic, Global Ties KC has continued their Youth Diplomat Program online to continue the mission of citizen diplomacy — the belief that every global citizen has not only the right, but the responsibility, to engage world cultures and create understanding by building productive relationships that stand the test of time.
Over the past year, the pilot of the virtual Youth Diplomat Program has provided Global Ties KC the platform to expand this unique cultural experience to students across the states of both Kansas and Missouri for the 2021-2022 cycle. Operating in the virtual space has allowed for increased engagement with inspiring and influential thought leaders from outside the Kansas City area.
Courtney Brooks is a member of the USGLC Next Gen Leadership Program.