The White House was decorated for the Holidays, beautifully picturesque and embodying all that is good, familiar and comfortable in our country. Traditional vignettes were everywhere; the smell of freshly cut pine, the sumptuous float of color on mantels, the brilliant shine of ornaments and the inviting twinkle of lights evoked a yearning for the Rockwellian innocence of American Christmases past.
It would have been easy to become swept away in the grandeur, delighting in my snug little box of national pride. But, that’s not why I was there.
I was there to consider the value in sending American children to other countries as part of the White House Travel Bloggers Summit.
America is the land of opportunity, right? So why encourage your precocious progeny to pursue knowledge beyond our borders in a place where those “A’s” they earned in foreign language classes might not be so impressive? Why?
Because it will change their life, yours and maybe the world.
“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.” ~ Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs
Studying abroad opens minds and doors for our children, providing better job opportunities, making the connection between what is found in a textbook and how it translates into application on a local and global scale. And frankly, it makes them far more interesting.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s address summed up eloquently, the core reasons why both travel and study abroad should play a key role in the education of all Americans,
“…travel outside our borders can add a new dimension to a person’s social and cultural intelligence – and one’s knowledge of how people abroad interact and do business with one another…In this day and age, more and more employers want to hire people with a true “world view” with the adaptability and openness that comes with having experienced other cultures.”
The Secretary sited a survey by MetLife that found 65% of Fortune 1000 executives identified global awareness as “very important” or “essential” in order to be ready for a career.
Study Abroad is a relevant, important, life skill.
Applying this message to myself, I considered my own years abroad. My study abroad experience wasn’t traditional. There was no “convincing my parents” that there was value in it, that I was mature enough, able thrive living a content away in a country where I barely spoke the language. They didn’t have to struggle to find the funds needed to send me. A set of orders from the Secretary of the Navy rendered those points moot.
Yet the years I lived in Spain – explored Europe and North Africa, studied life – imbued me with the same depth of understanding of our oneness, illustrated firsthand the impact of global citizenship, and the power in person-to-person exchange of ideas and values.
The knowledge I gained in my early adulthood travels is with me to this day. It is the spark that kindled my passion for travel, my need to continue to build relationships with the people I meet – be that down the street or digging beets out of the ground with a farmer in Jamaica – and to help my children see the value in these experiences. It was the beginning of an unquenchable wanderlust.
Living abroad changed me forever, for the better. It allowed me to explore and appreciate of our differences while becoming keenly aware of our sameness, of those threads that run through each of our stories that form the binding of a book this the greater anthology of humanity.
The summit was also used to announce the opening of the State Department’s new U.S. study abroad office, which will manage some of their premier study abroad programs. The office will join advocating for the benefits of study abroad, and bringing resources to those interested in participation. To that end, they announced a partnership with the Institute of International Education and College Week Live to launch the first ever Virtual U.S. Study Abroad Fair that will be taking place on February 25th on-line and everywhere. (for updates connect with the State Department Exchange Programs on Facebook )
In the midst of the busy holiday rush, as we shop and shop, furiously checking off the “wants” on Christmas lists and hunting down longed-for toys, I invite you to consider some “needs”.
The need for shortening the bridge between cultures.
The need for uniting the threads of our world into a tapestry of more peaceful understanding.
The need for living life fully, for contributing meaningfully to the creation of future history.
As you sip cocoa in the firelight this season and listen to the strains of “Joy to the World”, I invite you to think of THE WORLD.
I’ll be back in Part Two of this series to share information gleaned in our family’s quest to find a the Study Abroad program that works with our resources and suits Kaytie’s (our teenage daughter) goals. She seems to have an ever-changing list of places she wants to go and things she’d like to focus on… none of which include cleaning her room.