This Guest Commentary originally appeared in Bridge Magazine on April 17, 2015.

Earlier this week a handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro began the process for normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba after 50 years. 

That handshake opened the door to help both countries move forward together, despite a long and complicated history – a simple act to restore a relationship, starting with people-to-people exchanges.

From Cuba to Venezuela to Yemen and Tajikistan, Americans have a lot to learn about people from other countries and even more to share. Since 1972, the International Visitors Council of Detroit (IVC Detroit) has coordinated exchange programs in Detroit, giving current and emerging global leaders the opportunity to experience Detroit’s rich and diverse political, economic, social and cultural life. Visits are carefully designed exchanges that reflect participants’ professional interests, with an eye toward strengthening cross-border relationships and promoting a better understanding of our community and their culture. It’s an effort to increase our role in citizen diplomacy, shaping U.S. foreign relations “one handshake at a time.”

Indira Ghandi, prime minister of India; Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France; Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom; Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil; Tawakkol Karman, Nobel laureate; Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister of Zimbabwe — all are among the many individuals who have visited the U.S. through this program.

Citizen diplomacy is the concept that we each have the right, even the responsibility, to help shape U.S. foreign relations, one handshake at a time. These exchange programs as great ways to build cross-national, cross-cultural connections that are fundamental to U.S. interests, peace and security.

Later this week, the U.S. Department of State, in partnership with IVC Detroit and Global Ties U.S., is sponsoring “Diplomacy Begins Here” April 23 at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center. It’s one of eight events nationwide focused on deepening the understanding of U.S. public diplomacy, U.S. foreign policy, and the importance of international exchange programs and their impact on economic development and national security. 

“The goal is to foster connections and growth in the international exchange community and celebrate the critical role that public and citizen diplomacy programs play in building a more peaceful, prosperous world at home and abroad,” said Marian Reich, IVC Detroit executive director.

Speakers include Mara Tekach, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state; Ambassador Richard LeBaron from the Atlantic Council; and Julie Egan, senior advisor with the U.S. Department of State are among those will speak at the event.

The “Diplomacy Begins Here” summit is designed to engage globally minded people from all walks of life to explore the innovations and impacts that stem from international relationships. 

The event is open to the public. Tickets range from $20 for the morning session or $45 for the afternoon to $100 for the entire day, including an evening networking reception with Egan. For more information, visit the IVC website.

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