Finally, after too little attention, the concept of study abroad is making the news. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof champions the issue in a March 15 column announcing a winner for his 2014 contest to highlight neglected places in the world by sending a student overseas.
Kristof’s article followed news by Tufts University that it will help defray the costs for students to take a gap year abroad. All this comes on top of the annual Open Doors report on international educational exchanges which finds that the number of American students studying abroad for academic credit has increased 3% and that the number of international students in the U.S. is up 7% over the last recorded year. Together with yet unpublished data by SIT Study Abroad of World Learning, the case is strong for sending American youth on educational programs overseas.
Study abroad (and student exchanges writ large) are a critical tool in the backpack of young people if they want to be economically competitive, culturally enriched, and good global citizens and leaders. Data compiled by Marianne McGarrity, a graduate student researcher at SIT Study Abroad and Graduate Institute, shows that participants of study abroad programs often make life-long commitments to education, healthcare, and globally conscious efforts that solve problems. Alumni with international experience find positive use for foreign languages and overseas experiences in their careers.
In short, study abroad is life-changing in the best of ways. I did it in 1980 and credit that time overseas as a build block for a life in media, academia, and public service.
Good public diplomacy includes people-to-people engagement and the ideal scenario is to have more youth coming to America and going overseas. That is a global vision we should all subscribe to.