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Boston to host gathering of foreign ambassadors to experience the city, meet with local leaders

Boston will host this year's Experience America conference for diplomats.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Boston will host more than 30 foreign ambassadors next week for the 28th Experience America conference, a two-day event in which diplomats from multiple continents visit a city in the United States to engage with local community, academic, business, and cultural leaders.

The program, launched in 2008 by the US Department of State and the Office of the Chief of Protocol, will run from March 26-28 and highlight topics such as life sciences, biotech, and climate.

“It is incumbent upon us, in essence, to try to introduce them to the country as a whole,” said Ambassador Rufus Gifford, President Biden’s chief of protocol, who leads the effort. “As we know, with the diversity and complexity of the United States of America, you really have to do that region by region.”


US Chief of Protocol Rufus Gifford.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

In the past, foreign nations opened ports, established direct flights, and began discussing trade agreements with Experience America host cities following the conference. Gifford said he has “every reason to believe” this year’s event will see similar relationships built between global businesses or educational institutions and those in Boston.

“You may see a country that does not have a consulate in Boston think about opening a consulate in Boston based on the work that’s happening on the ground,” he said.

Diplomats will visit Pfizer and MassBio facilities in Cambridge, meet with educational leaders at Harvard University and MIT, and connect with political figures at Boston City Hall. During the first night of the trip, ambassadors will break out into small groups for dinners hosted by different local leaders.

Throughout the 48-hour Experience America, ambassadors and US diplomats will “really try to do a deep dive, try to understand what makes a community tick, and see where the opportunities are for collaboration,” Gifford said.

Last year, the event took place in Wilmington, Del., Biden’s home state. Starting this year, Gifford plans to organize three Experience America conferences annually, and the first will be on his home turf.


Gifford grew up in Manchester-by-the-Sea and easily named Boston when tasked with choosing a city to spotlight for the conference.

“No better place than my hometown,” Gifford said. “But also practically, it makes sense. It’s an international city. It’s easy to navigate. It’s not as overwhelming as a New York or Chicago, and we can focus on the industries that are really booming in the region.”

After the pandemic, Gifford says the trip to Boston is a big step in the federal government’s transition back to in-person dialogues between diplomats.

“The work of diplomacy ... is so effectively done in person,” Gifford said. “COVID really decimated so much of this interesting in-person programmatic work that the State Department and others have had engaged in, so this is like a slow rollout.”

Another key purpose behind Experience America is to improve cultural understanding among ambassadors to cultivate deeper international relationships.

“The more that you can actually put people in the same room together, you understand the various cultural connections we have that actually inherently benefit our relationship,” Gifford said. “We want to show these ambassadors my hometown in a way that they get a sense of who we are and what makes us special.”

While country visits from international delegations are a common diplomatic practice, Gifford said the Experience America program is unique in its robustness and because of America’s size and diversity.


“I have zero, zero, zero doubt that these two days ... will leave this group of ambassadors that comes on this trip with a greater connection to and a greater fondness for the part of the country that I love more than any other,” Gifford said.

Sonel Cutler can be reached at sonel.cutler@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cutler_sonel.