I was invited to participate in the White House Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship but unlike so many in the room, I didn’t study abroad in college. I entered my small liberal arts college as an international relations major, ready to learn about countries around the globe and to make a difference in the world after being inspired by my previous travels. I had expectations that I would study abroad but as my junior year approached, I stayed put.
Why Didn’t I Study Abroad?
I knew of study abroad options but looking back, I can’t put my finger on just one thing that caused me to miss taking advantage of this opportunity. I knew where the study abroad office at my college was located, having walked past the basement office daily on the way to class. I knew the rich experience would supplement my psychology and art history coursework. (Where better to learn about art than through a trip to Italy where I could be immersed in the heart of the Renaissance and the rich culture of Rome!) I knew the number of stamps in my passport showed that I was an experienced traveler. I knew my years of Spanish in high school and college could come in handy. And I knew financially, that my family would find a way to finance my educational experiences in another country if it was something I wanted to pursue.
I was lucky because I had everything working to my advantage when it came to study abroad had I chosen to pursue the opportunity. But I didn’t. And I’ve always wished I had.
These days 50% of students enter their college or their university with the expectation to study abroad. These days fewer than 10% take part in study abroad during their academic careers. This means only 1.5% of over 20 million college students study abroad. That’s a very small percentage.
Why Study Abroad?
As a mom of two elementary aged children who are already global citizens through our family travel, I have an opportunity to encourage them to do something I never did because as First Lady Michele Obama tweeted yesterday:
In her address to the 100 travel bloggers and digital influencers in attendance during the White House Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State, Evan Ryan said, “Study abroad is for everyone and we must prepare our future leaders — American students of all backgrounds — for the global workforce and to be global citizens.”
“It is crucial for our country’s next generation of leaders to travel, live, work, intern or volunteer abroad in order to gain the skills needed to understand and operate within the global political and economic landscape of the 21st century. It is in America’s national interest, writ large, to build and sustain a globally minded and internationally literate workforce, not just for government, but for private industry and society more broadly.”
—Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs
Assistant Secretary of State Ryan also said Americans who study abroad become unofficial ambassadors for our country who help define American values and debunk stereotypes. Travel helps students gain critical perspectives and begin to establish networks that are necessary for the future. Such experiences enhance their prospects in the global marketplace and future potential as global problem-solvers.
The importance of having a broad perspective was also addressed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker who is passionate about creating a better future for young people by increasing their opportunity to learn about the world and economy in which they will compete. She referenced the importance of global citizenship saying, “I believe that understanding the many norms and business practices outside of our country – and valuing and learning from diverse peoples and cultures – strengthens our nation and our economy.” As a mother, Secretary Pritzker also mentioned how she has encouraged her own children to travel for fun but also to develop greater cultural sensitivities and “appreciation for the beautiful mosaic that is our world today.”
Barriers to Studying Abroad
But yet there are so many real and perceived constraints to studying abroad. Assistant Secretary of State Ryan said these include:
- Hesitancy to take leave from the universities and colleges where they study
- Fearing a loss of progress towards degree completion
- Loss of income derived from employment, including the short term loss of income as well as potential increased cost of education for study abroad
- Difficulty in saying goodbye to family and friends who may express concerns about safety and security
- Feeling intimidated in navigating daily life in a foreign culture and language
- Concern about missing out on events and activities while away from campus
Regardless, Assistant Secretary of State Ryan believes “encouraging American students to study abroad is strategic imperative for the United States, and responses from students returning from study abroad experiences validate the importance of study abroad on a more personal level as well.”
Resources for Students Interested in Studying Abroad
In order to help facilitate study abroad experiences, the following resources are available to students and their families:
- United States Study Abroad Office— Just announced this week, the Study Abroad Office aims to demystify the study abroad process for students and families by serving as a resource. It serves to manage premier study abroad programs and advocate the benefits of study abroad to students, parents, faculty and administrators at colleges and universities, private sector representatives, and other groups. For more information, visit: http://www.educationusa.info/
- Virtual U.S. Study Abroad Fair — This online fair will take place on February 25, 2015 and is a collaboration between the US Study Abroad Office, Institute of International Education, and CollegeWeekLive.
- National Security Language Initiative for Youth and Critical Language Scholarship— Offers U.S. high school and college students fully-funded intensive summer language institutes overseas in critical foreign languages like Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic. These programs focus on the acquisition of valuable linguistic skills while imparting cultural knowledge and encouraging networking.
- Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program— The Gilman program seeks to target populations traditionally underrepresented in study abroad by offering scholarships for academic studies or career-oriented internships to undergraduates receiving Pell grants. 56% of Gilman Scholars representing ethnic minority groups and almost 40% are the first in their families to go to college. Follow the Gilman Program on Twitter at @gilmanprogram
- Fulbright U.S. Student Program—Fulbright scholars include college graduates, graduate students, and early career professionals who will conduct research in large cities and small villages across the globe. They engage with local citizens and integrate themselves into the overseas community while gaining important linguistic and cultural skills. Follow the Fulbright Program on Twitter at @FulbrightPrgrm
- Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship— This new fellowship is designed to encourage the next generation of student travelers by allowing them to research and share narratives on significant issues around the world through new media platforms.
Join the conversation at #StudyAbroadBecause
Whether you’re a family with a college or high school student or have children who are much younger, it’s not too late to start the conversation about having educational experiences through travel.
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