While I did grasp a clear picture of much of the status of Extension work in California, learned about urban programming in a major metropolitan area, and met incredible people who are passionate about their work, I did not meet the all of the parts of my goals for this exchange.
In the future, I would recommend an exchange begin with lengthy, planned, and perhaps facilitated introductions to involved staff, community partners and stakeholders, prior to the physical exchange occurs. This effort would accomplish many important facets, two considerations are:
1. All parties can see and hear from one another before the exchange, which gives them the opportunity to discuss the plan and foci of the exchange; a schedule/itinerary can be established and planned for before landing in new location; traveling individual(s) can adjust exchange foci, based on initial conversations, rather than using predetermined questions/priorities established before proper introductions.
2. The introductions occurring before the exchange should be virtual, led by the host staff member, and be more than one opportunity to see, and speak to, any members of the host community pertinent to the exchange parameters and the traveling staff’s office focus.
The length of the exchange should be no shorter than three (3) business days, and should most likely include a weekend, or non-business day, so that the exchange can include Extension work occurring during non-typical business hours (I arrived in California during the weekend, and was able to travel the county to explore and investigate the reach/breadth of Extension programming from the perspective of a layperson). Though three days may be sufficient, I would strongly recommend five days, so that travel to the surrounding communities is easy to plan, as it is clear effective and impactful Extension work hardly remains inside county lines.
I also wish I would have taken more pictures, but, as this was my first exchange, and because we did not develop the itinerary together (Keith, my Director, me), I was not sure what types of documents (photos, videos, paperwork) to collect.
The LA (and Orange) County area is an excellent match for an exchange, when trying to understand the complexities of Extension work, its stakeholders, community demographics and politics, programming and staffing priorities, and relationship with the home Campus. I would certainly recommend other urban Extension staff participate in an exchange in California, adding the above enhancements.
Taken altogether, I believe if my exchange would have included the above enhancements, I would have gained more knowledge, and may have returned to my community with more tangible tools to impact my original exchange goals. To be clear, I learned a great deal about my role as an Extension professional in my own state; I have shared many lessons from my exchange (about California) with my Extension colleagues in Colorado; I have changed my own professional outlook on my career’s future trajectory; and I have made more connections to add to my professional network as a result of this exchange.
That said, I believe wholeheartedly in the opportunity for community serving professionals to learn from one another, and I also believe no Extension program is an island – which means even though we are in different states, we need to connect with one another regularly to keep Extension relevant and fresh in the minds of our clientele, because relevance is an issue for all of Extension in this country. I would certainly participate in more exchanges within the Western Center for Metropolitan Extension and Research in the future, as both a host and visitor.