February Update: 2021 International Exchange Program (IEP)

In a typical year, the US/ICOMOS IEP Committee would spend their February working to review applications from potential hosts and prospective interns alike. By Valentine’s Day, we would have a solid list of selected interns, and reach out to our members and the public in our annual ‘Valentine’s Day Appeal’ to raise funds to support the year’s cohort. This year we’re going to wait a bit before we issue that appeal – as, unfortunately, the continued challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic mean that 2021 will be anything but typical, at least where the IEP is concerned.

In 2020, the IEP Committee consulted with hosts and selected interns before making the difficult decision to postpone the program. At the time, the idea was to hold as much of the 2020 program in 2021 as possible, assuming it could be done safely and within visa and travel restrictions. The plan was to work to place the same selected intern participants with the same hosts, to complete the same projects as proposed for 2020. There were many obstacles to this approach, but we monitored the situation and tried to remain hopeful.

The first bit of good news for the IEP came from the U.S. State Department, who restarted the J-1 visa program (necessary for our international interns to come to the US) last fall. Nearly six months later, however, many U.S. Consulates around the world remain closed, or are only open for emergency appointments – meaning that our interns can apply, but cannot necessarily schedule the interviews needed to finalize the visa. Talk of the vaccine and its release promise an eventual return to normalcy – but even with vaccinations on the rise, international travel is still a confusing array of delays, fluctuating COVID testing requirements, and frequent border closings to some or all travelers. In many parts of the world regional and local travel and quarantine restrictions further complicate the situation.

For now, the IEP Committee is carefully proceeding with the 2021 program. As Chair, I recently sent a survey to the fifteen host organizations who had signed up for 2020 to determine how best to proceed. All options are on the table – some internships might be partially or fully virtual, others may be delayed weeks or months. Regardless of the approach, we on the IEP Committee are committed to only holding the program in a way that ensures the health and safety of all participants, interns and hosts alike. And if conditions do not allow for a safe IEP, we will again consider postponing, or even canceling, the program this year.

While we’re putting the Valentine’s Day Appeal on hold, we still welcome your donations. Whether we use the funds for an IEP intern in person or virtually, we still need your support to ensure that US/ICOMOS can move forward with connecting young and emerging professionals around the world. On behalf of the IEP Committee, I thank you for your support and consideration, and I look forward to sharing good news about the program with you soon.

– Brian Michael Lione, IEP Chair and Trustee, US/ICOMOS

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