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U.S. 'citizen diplomats' honored for volunteering abroad

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"Maybe we all can't be the ordinary citizen doing extraordinary things like our honorees, but there are simple things we all can do to be good global citizens and engage America more with the world," says Ann Schodde, executive director of the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy in Des Moines, Iowa, the organization bestowing the honors this week.

"In fact in an age of globalization I'd say it's not just a right, but a responsibility."

If that last comment conveys a sense of urgency, it may be because America's standing in the world is deteriorating at a time of heightened globalization. For a growing number of experts, this image problem can never be fully addressed by government action but also requires individuals to realize they are America's face to the world – its front line of diplomats.

The concept of the American citizen diplomat goes back at least as far as Benjamin Franklin, who took the story of a nascent American republic to an intrigued Europe. But it was not until the mid-20th century, when America became increasingly concerned about the competition for minds posed by communism that the idea really began to bloom.

The Fulbright scholarships for higher-education exchanges established after World War II promoted this idea, but it was President Dwight Eisenhower who put it center stage by holding a "summit on citizen diplomacy" in 1956. "If only people will get together, then so eventually will nations," he said.

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