It’s been over a year since our last IVEP newsletter, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been idle. As COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early 2020, it affected the ability of our 34 IVEPers to go to work, attend retreats and return home. Some people were able to go home early while others needed to stay on assignment several months longer until a flight was available. By October 2020, the final IVEPer left her assignment. Many thanks to those supervisors and hosts who needed to be creative and gracious in their work and living situations — we all learned more about being flexible than we wanted to.
Based on how U.S. government was responding to COVID-19, we knew it wouldn’t be possible to have IVEPers in the U.S. for the 2020–2021 program year. Canada also was reeling from COVID-19 and exchange program registration requirements with the government were changing. MCCs in Canada are currently re-evaluating their provincial programs, including IVEP, so they’re taking a break for an indefinite amount of time.
During this time with no IVEPers on the ground, staff were able to connect with alumni and hosted multiple alumni events virtually. In total we had more than 300 people participate from around the globe, reconnecting with MCC and with each other. We also used this time to intentionally connect with alumni from the past five years regarding how to improve the program and learn more about their experience with racism while on assignment. Based on those conversations we were able to create a list of more than 15 ideas to implement over time that could help to improve the experience for future participants. Some of these ideas were things like provide cultural mentors, have an orientation session specifically about racism, provide more country specific info to hosts and supervisors before the IVEPer’s arrival, provide IVEPers with a basic ID card with their visa and immigration status, and create a U.S. country guide.
In February 2021 we started the placement process for a new group, not knowing what COVID-19 restrictions would look like three or even six months into the future. Many of the previous applicants renewed their interest and we placed 32 people. Some were not granted visas, some were not able to get visa interviews in time (because U.S. embassies had been closed, which backed up paperwork), and 18 were successful and are currently in service in the U.S.
We are grateful that despite many challenges we are able to continue IVEP in its 71st year. This wouldn’t be possible without the support and care from many people across the country who supervise, host and support IVEP participants during their terms and create lasting friendships. Thank you for your commitment and please enjoy the reflections from some of our 2021–22 IVEP group.