Exchange students discover diplomacy through virtual simulations

American and international students are connecting through exchange programs and diplomacy simulations that challenge them to work together and design solutions to global crises.

These student diplomats participate in online simulations run by the National Museum of American Diplomacy, whose dedicated education program encourages teachers and students around the world to immerse themselves in the world of diplomacy. You can tour the museum, and exhibits from several others, virtually, and download free classroom materials so you can discover diplomacy, too.

Public diplomacy and exchange programs have long been central to U.S. foreign policy.  During his first address as U.S. Secretary of StateAntony Blinken expressed appreciation for how “people-to-people exchanges bring our world closer together and convey the best of America to the world, especially to its young people.”

One popular State Department program, the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, strengthens people-to-people ties between the United States and Germany. Jointly funded by the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag, the program boasts over 27,000 American and German participants. The program helps youth prepare for careers in an increasingly globalized world by learning diplomatic skills like public speaking, critical thinking, negotiating and proposing realistic solutions.

Large group of people raising their arms in auditorium (State Dept./Lauren Fischer)
American students prepare to leave for Germany in August 2019 as part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. (State Dept./Lauren Fischer)

For several years, German exchange students have been participating in diplomacy simulations during their time in the United States. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted this year’s in-person activities, innovative virtual simulations have picked up the slack.

U.S. diplomats facilitate simulations created by the National Museum of American Diplomacy. Each focuses on a separate international crisis, modeled after real challenges, including international migration, nuclear proliferation, wildlife trafficking, counterfeit trade and pandemics. Students play the roles of a fictional state or United Nations agency, then develop and debate proposals to resolve the crises.

“I felt like it was such a great opportunity to exchange with new people … and very interesting and challenging to do the actual task,” one German participant said of mock negotiations on an international refugee crisis. “The issue we were talking about is more current than ever and we are getting more and more connected around the world — so it’s very interesting to learn more about the way we have to deal with problems and other countries which might not share the same mindset as we do.”

“I feel very accomplished, being able to participate in something that our own diplomats go through on a regular basis,” an American student said. “And now I see that anyone can become a U.S. diplomat, and that this might be the right career for me!”