Advancing Educational and Cultural Exchanges in the Western Hemisphere

On my visit to the Dominican Republic this week, I had the opportunity to meet with more than a dozen future Dominican leaders -- all high school students, who were enrolled in an English immersion school in Santo Domingo. They spoke with depth and conviction about pressing matters in their country. Every one spoke of his or her desire to use their growing skills in English to study in U.S. universities.

That same day, I met with American college students who are taking college courses in the Dominican Republic. I asked why they'd chosen to study abroad and they shared what they'd learned, reflecting an impressive perspective and awareness about the region -- and the world at large. They, too, recognized that, by becoming bilingual, they would open doors for better futures.

Even as I had these encouraging conversations, an annual report on academic exchange released this week shows a disparity in the flow of students within the Americas. The number of international students coming to the United States rose six percent last year from 2010 levels, to a record high of 764,495. Those students not only diversify our campuses enriching the college experience for all -- they contribute $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy each year.

But conversely, the number of U.S. students venturing to study abroad last year rose only one percent. Although about 14 percent of American students will study abroad before they graduate, only one percent of those enrolled are studying abroad in any given year. Clearly, we must do more to increase the presence of our American students abroad -- not only to enrich their experiences of the world but to make them competitive global citizens of the future. A two-way flow is important. And in the Dominican Republic, I had a vibrant exchange with higher education officials and university presidents about some of the ways we can continue to create opportunities for exchanges in both directions.

The Department of State is building bridges to facilitate the flow of students between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean. We're doing that to support President Obama's goal, 100,000 Strong in the Americas, to increase the number of students from the United States going to Latin America and the Caribbean, and from the region to the United States, to 100,000 each year in both directions.

The plan is not to do this by handing out scholarships, but by creating partnerships among parties who will benefit. So we are working with universities, the private sector, and governments throughout the region. We are fostering public-private partnerships that encourage companies to help build their own future work force by creating educational opportunities now. And we are working to make students aware of the advantages of exploring new horizons -- starting with their own hemisphere.

We can all do more, citizens, government, and private sector actors alike, to encourage the number of Americans opting to study abroad. We do this by supporting exchange programs and creating opportunities. But we can also do it simply by making the case. More and more companies are developing global perspectives and markets. They will tend to seek employees who understand the global markets, speak other languages, or have a familiarity and expertise working across borders with diverse partners. By going abroad, young Americans will increase their chances of succeeding in a global marketplace. Furthermore, they will help build an electorate that is more aware of the international connections, realities, and partnerships that are becoming the way of the 21st century. Increasingly, the bottom line and our mutual understanding with citizens around the world are becoming part of the same important equation.



Rose V.
Michigan, USA
November 19, 2012

Rose M.V. in Michigan writes:

I had the opportunity to study abroad several times. By doing so, I widened my horizons and broadened my understanding of various cultures. It would be wonderful if more students were able to do the same.

Maryland, USA
November 19, 2012

Patrick in Maryland writes:

I think this is a great exchange, if it has diversity in countries involved.

You right, people that know more about different cultures, and their languages.
Have more opportunities when looking for work.

Have A Great Weekend !

Amanda Z.
November 19, 2012

Amanda Z. writes:

I completely agree with your views on this issue. More American students should study abroad and Obama's initiative, 100,000 Strong in the Americas, may help make this happen. I checked out the initiative's website ( and was relieved to find information on funding. I think this is one of the main reasons why American college students don't travel abroad more frequently - it’s just too expensive! The website points to a number of funding options, which may be useful. But U.S. colleges and universities must also be willing to cooperate. As we all know, private undergraduate education today. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “the average total cost of attendance for first-time, full-time students living on campus and paying in-state tuition was $20,100 at public 4-year institutions and $39,800 at private nonprofit 4-year institutions.” If you are fortunate to have a merit scholarship, this may not carry on with you abroad (though financial aid usually does). Families who depend on these scholarships will surely be dissuaded to consider an abroad program yet colleges remain unwilling to extend the awards. Consider the additional expenses that traveling abroad involves; students must still pay for their books and food, and it is likely that sight-seeing and traveling will be on the agenda as well. The average American family, who is already struggling to pay the tuition bill, will most definitely struggle to come up with the add-on expenses. Maybe if tuition was more affordable than parents would be more willing and able to send their children abroad. There is no doubt that the experience is a valuable one. But is it do-able? Many families can’t swing it. Obama’s initiative, though, seems to recognize these setbacks and will hopefully succeed in making a trip abroad more affordable.

Under Secretary Sonenshine With Students in the Dominican Republic
November 16, 2012


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