American Spaces Handbook

American Spaces promote critical thinking and thoughtful discussion of issues important to the U.S. relationship with the host country and U.S. global interests. They do this in keeping with the U.S. commitment to a core tenet of democracy: upholding a citizen’s right to free access to information. American Spaces counteract negative perceptions and disinformation about the United States, and they offer opportunities to build bridges of mutual respect and understanding between the host country and the people of the United States. American Spaces should not only be tools of the embassy’s public affairs section, but should serve as platforms for the entire mission to use for public engagement in support of the broad range of U.S. relationships, interests and activities in the host country. In general, through a set of  five core programs, American Spaces should:

  • Provide accurate, compelling, timely and audience-appropriate information about the United States – its history, culture, society, values and foreign policies.
  • Facilitate English language learning through access to English language speakers, resources, computers and internet access.
  • Promote higher education study in the United States by providing international students with accurate, comprehensive and current guidance on applying to U.S. colleges and universities.
  • Foster people-to-people connections, increase understanding and build respect with host country audiences through cultural programs.
  • Support continuing engagement with U.S. government exchange program alumni, connecting them to local audiences through alumni programs in which credible, local voices can share firsthand information about the United States and American values.

Types of American Spaces

There are two main categories of American Spaces: U.S. government-owned and operated American Spaces and partner American Spaces.

U.S. government-owned and operated American Spaces are generally referred to as American Centers. These are facilities that can be located either within or outside a U.S. embassy’s or consulate’s compound, have regular public hours and are staffed by embassy or contracted employees under the direction of the public affairs officer. American Centers offer flexible programming space to conduct a broad range of public engagement activities, such as embassy-sponsored speakers, film screenings, educational advising sessions, hands-on makerspace programs, exhibits and artistic performances. American Centers often serve as the leadership link between the embassy or consulate and a network of partner American Spaces in the country.

Partner American Spaces are located in and operated by local host institutions, with support and direction from a U.S. embassy or consulate. There are two primary models:

  • American Corners are partnerships between an embassy’s public affairs section and host country institutions (universities, non-governmental organizations, schools, etc.). The host country partner provides the physical space and staff, while the embassy public affairs section provides staff training, technical support, equipment, technology and multimedia materials about the United States. American Corners provide programming through the five core program types listed above. Some American Corners may have their own “brand,” such as Lincoln Corners, Lincoln Learning Centers, Windows on America and several others. Some are named after famous Americans. Some may have a specialized focus in promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) or hands-on collaboration through maker activities.
  • Binational Centers, also called BNCs, are private, autonomous local institutions dedicated to promoting mutual understanding between the host country and the United States through the five core programs listed above. Their primary financial support comes from revenues the institution generates from student fees for English classes. Most BNCs are located in Latin America, although there are a few in other regions.

For an American Space partnership, particularly an American Corner, to be successful, both the embassy and the host institution must play an active collaborative role. While the embassy/consulate provides materials, equipment, training, guidance and special programming, the host institution is responsible for keeping the American Space operating day-to-day. To do this, the host institution

  • independently creates and presents programs on topics related to the U.S. and the five core programs in joint planning with, and with guidance from, the embassy/consulate
  • provides and maintains the physical space 
  • provides an English-speaking staff member to staff the American Space during regular hours
  • collaborates with the embassy to host embassy programs
  • promotes the American Space’s activities and resources internally and to the public
  • ensures that the American Space meets standards and reporting requirements
  • provides evaluative feedback on improving the American Space and
  • participates in the strategic planning for the American Space.

Public Affairs Officer

The Public Affairs Officer (PAO) at the embassy is responsible for the success and ultimate oversight of American Spaces in the country. He or she ensures that the public affairs section is involved with the American Spaces and visit them on a regular basis, and that the rest of the embassy participates in programs. The public affairs section supports American Spaces by providing training and some funding. The PAO often is the grant officer for American Spaces, and specific to binational centers (BNCs), a PAO may sit on a board of directors to maintain and enhance the relationship. The PAO is responsible for approving all requests submitted for American Spaces funding, ensuring that American Spaces meet the public diplomacy goals and the American Spaces Standards.

Cultural Affairs Officer and Information Officer

The Cultural Affairs Officer (CAO) is often the PAO’s designate for overseeing American Spaces. Alternatively but less often, the PAO may designate the Information Officer (IO) as responsible for the American Spaces portfolio. He or she is assisted by one or more Locally Employed Staff (LES) who work directly with their American Spaces. The CAO and LES coordinate public diplomacy programs and events.

Locally Employed Staff

Locally Employed Staff (LES) who hold the American Spaces portfolio maintain regular contact with the American Spaces. They help build and nurture the relationship with the partner institution, and assist the PAO, CAO or IO in evaluating and providing oversight. LES staff often manage American Spaces grants.

The Rest of the Embassy

The support of the Chief of Mission (COM – the Ambassador or Chargé d’Affairs) is crucial to a successful relationship with the American Spaces in a country. The COM may visit for important events like anniversaries or other high-profile programs. The COM also encourages a whole-of-mission approach to participating in public engagement programs at American Spaces. For example, the economics officer may use an American Space to promote a science and technology program.

Outside Contacts

Vibrant American Spaces thrive on continued public diplomacy programming, and the embassy should take advantage of more than embassy personnel in developing such programming. Alumni of U.S. government programs, Peace Corps Volunteers, and even local U.S. expatriates can be speakers. They can lead book club discussions, host film nights, chair English practice sessions or even facilitate study groups for those taking U.S. online college classes.

Who Does What in Washington?

The Office of American Spaces resides in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), which is in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (also known as “R”) in the U.S. Department of State. The staff of the Office of American Spaces is fully dedicated to the development and sustainability of the entire network of more than 600 American Spaces, providing strategic direction, guidance, leadership, funding and training, using many of the programs and resources provided through ECA and R. To maintain those resources, the Office of American Spaces tracks the use of American Spaces through data collected on numbers of programs, numbers of attendees and numbers of total visitors. The Office of American Spaces is the headquarters of the Regional Public Engagement Specialist (known as REPS) corps of Foreign Service specialists who are strategically stationed around the world to provide guidance to embassies and consulates on using public diplomacy resources available through ECA and R.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) manages the State Department’s educational and cultural exchange and international educational programs. ECA plays a major role in American Spaces. Of the five core programs offered in American Spaces, ECA supports four: English language learning, EducationUSA, cultural programs and alumni activities. The Office of English Language Programs manages programs to promote learning and support teaching of American English around the world. EducationUSA is the State Department’s network of hundreds of advising centers in nearly 200 countries — many of which are in American Spaces — providing international students with accurate, comprehensive guidance on applying to U.S. colleges and universities. The Office of Alumni Affairs supports efforts to increase links between American Spaces and former participants in exchange programs. ECA sponsors a wide variety of cultural, professional, and sports exchanges and provides expert advice and guidance to embassies/consulates for programming in American Spaces.

The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs oversees ECA and Global Public Affairs (GPA), the domestic communications bureau. R supports American Spaces by managing and providing funding through ECA and the Office of American Spaces.