Tulsa Reputation Grows As International Location

Tulsa Global Alliance () is working to enhance Tulsa’s reputation as an international hub, says Bob Lieser, vice president of programs for .

One way the group is doing that is through its many exchange programs, which enable Tulsans “to make powerful friends in vital countries,” he says.

He cites as one example, when then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping came to the U.S. in 2012 on an agricultural mission, he insisted on visiting his host family from 27 years earlier. Jinping wanted to reconnect with the Iowa farmers and other residents he came to know then. Today, he’s the president of China.

“With that exchange program, he gained an understanding of what America is about and what Americans are like,” Lieser says.

“Given today’s tense international climate, that kind of experience is incredibly important for future cooperation.”

In fact, he adds, 300 current or former heads of state have participated in exchange programs in America.

Lieser also recalls a legislative fellow from Pakistan who initially did not want to visit the United States because she had such negative views of the country.

“But at her delegation’s farewell dinner, she said she loved her host family and didn’t want to leave,” says Lieser. “Changing perceptions like this is so strategically important for this country.”

Local Impact
Beyond the impact on international diplomacy and world peace, exchanges can also provide significant and concrete benefits for host families and host communities.

The International Visitor Leadership Program, the State Department’s premier professional exchange, contributes between $700,000 and $800,000 a year to the Tulsa economy and has contributed $30 million over the last 40 years.

Exchanges also establish future business relationships and generate additional tourism.
Many of these exchanges are designed and implemented by World Learning, a nonprofit that oversees exchanges around the world. The organization taps its network of local partners, like , to find host families in the U.S. (more than 2,000 visitors a year), says Lieser.

Personal Impact
On a personal level, retirees Jim and Charlotte Langley, who have hosted guests since 2003, say the programs have enriched their lives in many ways.

“You’re making personal connections with people from around the world,” says Charlotte Langley. “We’re continually communicating with the girls and young women who have stayed with us from Iraq, Pakistan and other places. And they invite us to visit.”

In addition to providing a place to sleep, meals and some transportation, hosts also show visitors what it’s like to live in Tulsa, from cultural and sporting events to visits to the mall? and to Sunday church, where two young women agreed to answer questions for the children’s group, Charlotte says.

“Our guests have also cooked their home specialties for us, and one time, when we had a party for hosts and visitors, they moved the furniture to show us the dances they know from home.”

One of the biggest surprises, she says, was how much most of them admire America.
“I thought they’d be more negative, but it was the opposite.”

One Muslim girl even asked for a Bible to read, which the Langleys were able to get for her in her native language.

“It’s so important for them to see how we live and vice versa,” Jim Langley says. “It’s so important for both sides.”

For more information about Tulsa Global Alliance, see tulsaglobalalliance.org.

Updated 07-24-2017

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