In the academic community, study abroad and exchange programs are often assumed to be slightly more than vacations with light reading. However, evidence suggests that exchange programs build cultural understanding and spread democratic practices across the globe.
This week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) hosted its best-attended annual conference to date, confirming that exchange programs are growing in popularity in the global age.
CIEE is an organization with big ideas based on a simple premise: global development has to be multilateral. By encouraging students and educators from around the world to share and learn from the international community, CIEE aims to create the leaders of tomorrow.
According to the CIEE, “Student exchange is the finest investment in public diplomacy the (United States) can make.”
They argue that study abroad and foreign exchange programs are changing international relations by creating young professionals that better understand the necessity of mutual growth and respect among nations.
While foreign aid is often thought of as a one-way street, with industrialized nations giving to the developing world, advocates claim that supporting the education and professional development of foreign nationals benefits both parties.
Some critics, however, have expressed concerns that these ideals are not being met. The BBC offered conflicting evidence that suggests that these programs are not synthesizing cultural differences nor are they increasing diversity on campuses.
The BBC also reported that rising costs of tuition and travel often means that only students who are wealthy and already well-traveled have the ability to enter such programs.
Although advocates are likely to find this information unflattering, more people are joining exchanges and studying abroad than ever. Likewise, exchange programs have received a great deal of support in recent years.
Even U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed his approval saying, “Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed.”
Educational exchanges face many challenges, but if supporters are correct, such programs might be the best hope in developing an international community that understands and helps one another.
– Chase Colton