Dec 122014
 
The White House Chief of Staff addressing the Travel Bloggers Summit on Study Abroad!

The White House Chief of Staff addressing us at the Travel Bloggers Summit on Study Abroad!

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.

Isn't this sad? This, and the other slides in this article are from the White House conference.

Isn’t this sad? This, and the other slides in this article are from the White House conference.

“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.

Only 1.5% of U.S. students study abroad?!

Only 1.5% of U.S. students study abroad?! Noooo!

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!

The racial breakdown of Study Abroad students does not reflect the diversity of the nation's study body.

The racial demographics of students studying abroad do not reflect the diversity of our nation.

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!

This fact is just silly. Silly and upsetting.

Aren’t these numbers astounding?

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?

How do we best inspire and assist the vast majority of students who haven't studied abroad to travel?

How do we best inspire and assist those who haven’t studied abroad to travel?

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.

These are AWESOME resources to make student travel a reality.

These are AWESOME resources to make student travel a reality.

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!

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  13 Responses to “Join the White House #StudyAbroadBecause Movement!”

  1. I’m glad you are addressing this. I know I had to jump through hoops for months to arrange my study abroad program, but it was beyond worth it! But when going through the application process I did not know if it was going to be the right thing for me. Luckily, I had some great friends and family by my side to support me in going. That is why I know we must actively encourage our students to study abroad.

    Overall, I’m pleased that the White House is focusing on changing these statistics!

  2. So glad you wrote this. I am pleased to hear this is high on the list of priorities for the White House. I hadn’t read the article in the Washington Post until I saw it linked here and it’s more than perplexing, it’s fundamentally stupid. Because of threats like ISIS, the administration shouldn’t want to encourage students, particularly those of color and who come from low income communities to study and work abroad? I think it’s a fantastic initiative and am happy there is a momentum happening. I agree that the racial diversity of the students is appalling. But so is the stark Whiteness of the travel bloggers invited to the event and am surprised that you’re the only one present that I know of who has written about the lack of diversity in an event that is supposed to be all about inclusivity. Perhaps twitter will be the great unifier . . . keep up the wonderful posts. Looking forward to reading more from you this year!

    • Thanks so much, Navdeep! Race can be a tough thing to talk about in this country, and it’s particularly intense when bringing it up could be seen as biting the hand that so generously beckoned us to live the dream of being at the White House! That said, I agree with you that it is vital for Americans of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds to be traveling and studying abroad, and thus I published http://www.aroundtheworldl.com/2014/12/14/race-bloggers/ to open the discussion for how. Thanks again for reading and being part of the dialogue!

  3. […] recently had the honor of attending the White House Travel Bloggers Summit on Study Abroad and Global Engagement, which marked the U.S. government’s new initiative to encourage and assist more Americans of […]

  4. Wow! This movement is gaining momentum and I’m impressed! Studying abroad and traveling in general, has help me become a well rounded individual and has helped propel me in life. I think different;y because of the different environments I’ve been exposed to. It’s almost as though I have an advantage over those who stay in their environment It helped motivate me and broaden my perspective on the world. Studying abroad gave me an opportunity to experience culture and diversity on a different scale. Nothing expands your mind like being in a new place and experiencing things first hand.

    During my elementary and middle school years, my parents would take me to Orlando,Florida, New York, New York and Newark, New Jersey EVERY year. I always hated going to New Jersey. I didn’t understand why people lived in what appeared to be shacks. It was such a down trodden area. None the less, year after year we’d spend a weekend there for a church youth conference in the spring time. We stayed at the same awful hotel each year. Then in the summer I had a chance to visit Florida each year and stay at a 4 star resort. It was a grand time! Playing in the sun, we had a water park at our resort and we went to theme parks. I would return home thrilled to go to school and would tell all my friends. Only, none of them had gone on summer vacations. Then, each fall we’d visit friends and family in New York (upstate and the city). In New York we stayed right in Times Square at our timeshare.

    Fast forward to high school, when I transferred from a predominately Caucasian school to a predominately Black & Latino school. About 90% of my friends in exam schools had been to other states and even countries. However, about 80% of the kids at my new school had never left the area they live in beyond traveling to our school zone. The ones who had traveled were students who’s families were from countries, mainly the Caribbean. One of my teachers took us all on a business and entrepreneur trip to New York City’s wholesale district for a hands on lesson of buying low and selling high. It wasn’t until then I had noticed I was 1 of 5 students (between 2 buses of students) who had traveled outside of Boston! We stayed in a five star hotel in the middle of times square (which I had been to before.)

    My new friends at this school were elated to be on this trip. As I walked the streets of New York and knew where I was going and thought the hotel was normal, everyone else was in a sense of awe and discovery. When we got back to school I started hearing peoples stories of never having traveled outside of Boston before. They voweled to work harder so they could experience life like that again. They kept their word! People worked hard and we had a high graduation rate in my class. Most of my class went on to college and/or utilized their entrepreneurial skills gained from that trip.

    I realized that I was blessed to have simply been taken out of my environment early on in life. I always saw the world different from those around me. Whether it was to stay in a down trodden area in Newark, NJ or bask in the sun in Orlando, FL it all contributed to my ‘can do” attitude! I always knew the world was big and I could do anything I wanted. Perhaps it was because I had been given a piece of the world through travel and most people stay stuck in their environments.

    Traveling promoted my growth and it excited me that my classmates experienced that growth too. Had we never traveled to New York for those 2 days, I always wonder how many students would have dropped out of school? How many of those who graduated would have not gone to college? How many of those students would have never started a business or had the resources and knowledge to do so? THAT ONE TRIP CHANGED A LOT OF LIVES.

  5. I agree that everyone should have the opportunity to study abroad. No matter what race or income level with enough research and foot work you can find the program that best fits your needs. I was surprised to hear that so little students actually travel especially in the states. I’m always telling my mentees about my travels and encouraging them to enroll in foreign language programs. Now that the government is getting more involved maybe the idea of travel for them wont feel so out of reach but more tangible. Any traveling dream is possible if you are willing to do the work.

  6. I agree that it would be beneficial if more students chose a study abroad program that was not in Europe. Regretfully, I did not participate in a structured study abroad program. However, I did go to India for a month with friends in college. It fundamentally changed my understanding of the world and helped put me on my current career path.

  7. I was lucky enough to have two study abroad experiences as a teen, and came consider study abroad to be one of the most invaluable experiences for both intellectual enrichment and personal growth. I would encourage every student to do it. My opinion is that homestays are the ideal environment and high school is the ideal timing for study abroad.

  8. I was so impressed by this summit, too – and what we ALL can do (including your students!) to change the face of international education.

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