Today I returned to my Boston classroom after the White House Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Engagement. Breathless and exhilarated from the amazement of the previous 48 hours, I asked my 7th grade students, “Why do you think the U.S. government is putting all this new energy into getting more Americans to study abroad?” Students’ hands shot up.
“Studying abroad makes the world a safer place because people from one country can make friends with people in another country,” one wise 12-year-old stated, “and if you’re friends with someone who is different from you, you’re less likely to be violent against their group.”
“Our country will have a better economy if more students travel,” chimed in another student, “because then our companies will learn what the world needs and wants, instead of only focusing on the U.S.”
“Yeah, and… traveling makes people happier!” concluded a third sage middle schooler.
I was so inspired today, hearing those brilliant young people explain the importance of this new study abroad push by our government. To be honest, these seventh graders did a better job of summing up the heart of the White House initiative than a recent (rather perplexed) Washington Post article. It makes sense that these students would care and understand, however, because they are who this study abroad movement most impacts. Boston Public Schools students are 78% low income and 87% students of color. Hence, it is of particular importance that this new U.S. study abroad initiative is focused on broadening access to travel for all income levels and ethnicities. For an understanding of why, look at this chart comparing the current racial breakdown of all students, versus students who study abroad. Though only 62% of U.S. students are White, 76% of students who currently study abroad are White. Not fair!
Clearly, the U.S. government has not been adequately supporting access to the transformative power of travel for all… until now. In the summit this week, some of the top leaders in government — including the White House Chief of Staff (!), the Secretary of Commerce, and the Assistant to the President — declared a new commitment to helping ALL students study abroad. (Click here for a video of the speeches.) Another government goal these leaders asserted was to diversify the destinations students choose for their time abroad. Just look at the ridiculous imbalance there currently is in study abroad destinations!
To me, these numbers are shocking. They represent a profound lack of alignment with the direction of the world, and major missed opportunities in the important and delightful experiences the rest of the world that is NOT Europe has to offer… much as we love Europe. I think my passion for this point is particularly strong because of how transformative my months traveling in Ghana, West Africa, and in Asia and Latin America were. I am so glad that the White House is now asserting the importance of diverse destinations!
So… what are the practical next steps, given this next slide?
Happily, there are concrete steps for you to help. First, join the movement on social media by using the hashtag #StudyAbroadBecause to encourage more people to see the world! The hashtag has already trended at #2 in the country on Twitter, and shows no signs of slowing. Even the First Lady joined the conversation! Jump in with us and change the world by encouraging more people to go out and see it.
But what about PRACTICAL (read, “money”) solutions to this issue? Celebrate, because there’s an answer.
It turns out that the government has a ton of fabulous resources (that is, scholarships and programs) to travel the world! Part of the reason the White House had the conference this week was because they want help getting the word out about these opportunities. So let’s do it! Go to http://exchanges.state.gov/us/ and use the handy-dandy search tool in the upper right to find a travel program that’s perfect for YOU and those you love!
As you can tell, I am thrilled about this initiative, and will do everything I can do help it succeed. I hope you will, too! Do leave a comment below with your thoughts, and help share this article to spread the word. And don’t worry — more articles about my White House week will come soon, so stay tuned!