The Foreign Service Journal, April 2021

34 APRIL 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL K itih’kanamtsimatsinoh’poowaa anoom Siksikatsitapii sah’koyii (Welcome to the Blackfeet Reservation). … Gathered around the campfire in the chill of a Montana night, 20 young fellows listen as a Blackfeet elder shares the tribe’s cre- ation story. The fellows are participants in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders academic fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Selected by embassies at posts across Southeast Asia, they trav- eled thousands of miles for their first experience in the United States. After a day of hiking along the Continental Divide, the “Backbone of the World,” they swap stories, sing American pop songs and sample s’mores. Their academic director, affection- ately referred to as Dr. Len, is a global expert on transboundary environmental studies. He provides context for the next day’s lessons before they retire to their tipis, sharing confidences late into the night. This was what an exchange looked like in the pre-COVID world, before the disruption began. The next day, the group would journey to the Badger-Two Medicine wilderness, where young Blackfeet mother Kendall Elmo tells the story of how the U.S. gov- ernment leased the area to oil companies for $1 per acre without environmental review or consulting the Blackfeet Nation. Elmo describes how the tribe partnered with diverse stake- holders to oppose the leases, reinforcing the importance of build- Some virtual components have proved helpful, but the face-to-face experience—the heart and soul of an exchange program—is irreplaceable. BY DEENA MANSOUR Deena Mansour is executive director of the Mau- reen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, where she teaches public diplomacy and promotes the Foreign Service in high schools and uni- versities throughout the state. A former Foreign Service officer, she was a member of the 99th U.S. Information Agency junior officer class and served in Jakarta from 1994 to 1997. FOCUS DIPLOMACY IN AN AGE OF DISRUPTION IN-PERSON EXCHANGES, INTERRUPTED