Last year, Iowa City hosted 189 visitors from 68 different countries, helping build global ties locally.
This effort is led by Council for International Visitors Iowa Cities. Founded 33 years ago, CIVIC is a nonprofit organization that collaborates with the Department of State to host short-term professional programming for international visitors, director Jo Butterfield said.
The individuals who pass through Iowa City are typically leaders in their field, Butterfield said. Often, they are on international tours to speak about practices in their home country and how they may be applied here.
On April 16, Lana Zak gave a keynote speech at CIVIC’s annual Celebration for Citizen Diplomacy Dinner. Zak is a UI alum who works as ABC News correspondent. She also serves on the Honors Program Advisory Board.
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Earlier in the day, Zak spoke with students at the UI about her journey from studying journalism and political science as an undergrad to being an award-winning reporter for ABC News. CIVIC sponsored the event with the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Political Science Department.
CIVIC and the UI have had a close partnership that will be coming to a close on May 1. Previously, CIVIC’s office was located with the UI International Programs. In the fall, the members were informed the would have to find space elsewhere.
Staff largely consists of UI students, so CIVIC needed to stay close to campus, student and programming coordinator Mark Schoen said. As of June 30, they will be housed in Old Brick.
CIVIC connects students to the visitors from around the world to network and build connections, Butterfield said. If students would like to study abroad in a certain country, CIVIC will set them up with a native resident about culture and language.
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“Every year, we go to D.C., and we have to make some speeches for why our congressmen should fund this program,” Schoen said. “For the dollar amount it costs, the economic benefit is worth seven times more. All those people are getting direct contact with emerging leaders in the world. There’s no other program that offers access to students to actually meet these people.”
CIVIC is funded through a combination of private donations and government funding.
CIVIC sets up community volunteers to drive visitors to places they need to be and host home-cooked meals. The organization also plans cultural events and excursions so visitors can experience what Iowa has to offer, Butterfield said.
A large mission of CIVIC is allowing cross-cultural relationship building, putting faces and stories to larger problems going on in the world. When Butterfield thinks about what’s going on in Venezuela, she thinks about the Venezuelan people she has met and how they are doing, she said.
“We believe cultural exchanges have an inherent value, but also with one-on-one interactions, you form a relationship as people,” Butterfield said.
Secretary Liz Bergeron, who has worked internationally for around 20 years, said working for CIVIC allows her to continue pursuing her global passion close to home.
“The broadening of perspectives is so fortunate,” Bergeron said. “A lot of people haven’t heard about Iowa, but they come and learn about what is special and unique. People leave with the understanding of the warmth of people here.”