The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (KL-YES) hosted a world-wide virtual kickoff party commemorating its 10th year. The event honored more than six thousand alumni from 45 countries, host families, schools and communities, current students, partner organizations, the United States Department of State and the United States Congress.
“Our goal is to help link countries and cultures with Iowa and the United States. I don’t think any program we’ve had has done a better job than the KL-YES program,” said IRIS president and founder Bob Anderson.
From the very beginning, IRIS has played an important part in the KL-YES program. Established by Congress in Oct. 2002 in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the program’s first year began with hosting 100 students from fourteen countries. Nineteen of the students were hosted by IRIS.
Several other organizations were lucky enough to host students from what was once known as the P4L YES program, yet IRIS is one of three remaining which do both selection and placement.
The KL-YES program gave IRIS opportunities which it never had before. Anderson said, “It also gave us a whole new market. It meant that we were branching off into a completely new area because we had never worked with youth before. All of our previous programs were adult professionals.”
Besides it’s long involvement with the program, what makes IRIS different than other organizations hosting and placing students? Many would say it’s the small town experience that Iowa brings to it’s students.
“Many of the students have had their most interesting experiences in small towns,” said Anderson. He believes that that program has been critical for the state, and “really important for small-town Iowa. It’s not just beneficial to the kids, but also to the Iowans who interact.”
Anderson, who has more than 2,400 Facebook friends, has been able to keep in contact with a number of the students. He enjoys seeing them succeed when they are done with the initial exchange.
He said, “There have been a significant number that have come back to go to college or a university here in Iowa and even other parts of the United States. We had one student who was able to win a full scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa.”
While success may be one of the program’s goals, Anderson’s favorite part is getting the students together. “It’s not just their experience in the United States, but their experience with each other and when they return home. The IRIS programs operate that way. We try to help them become a group and it gives them someone to talk to.”
Anderson calls it “a real blessing” that IRIS’ programs and the KL-YES program are designed in similar ways. With help from many friends and colleagues near and far, IRIS is proud to have partnered with KL-YES, which gives us even more opportunity to fulfill our mission.
On the day of the 10th anniversary Facebook and Twitter allowed people to post their memories, explain how the program changed their lives and share what it meant to them. Through various social media outlets, countries were able to share pictures of their celebrations which involved many cakes adorning the 10th anniversary logo.
View our Facebook page to watch a video of what the KL-YES program means to our current students in Iowa.
Bob Anderson is president and founder of IRIS, Inc. and a former Iowa Lieutenant Governor, legislator and high school journalism teacher. He was a founding board member and first executive director of the Iowa Peace Institute. He has managed several State Department and United States Information Agency programs in countries which include Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Thailand, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Indonesia, Armenia, China and Korea. For the last 25 years, he has directed nonprofit organizations devoted to international understanding. Bob is also president of Global Ventures, a private enterprise involved in international education. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa.