With China’s President Hu Jintao in Washington for a State Visit, First Lady Michelle Obama used the occasion as an opportunity to encourage American high school, community college and university students to pursue study abroad. Speaking at Howard University, Mrs. Obama pressed the importance of American students pursuing study abroad as a whole, and specifically study abroad in China.
“Studying abroad isn’t just an important part of a well rounded educational experience,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s also becoming increasingly important for success in the modern global economy.” She also emphasized that study abroad does not just help individual students, but also the United States as a whole. “Studying in countries like China is about so much more than improving your own prospects in the global market… When you study abroad you’re actually helping to make America stronger.”
While the First Lady did an excellent job in highlighting the individual student and national benefits to study abroad, she was also keenly aware of the challenges we face in increasing the number and diversity of students studying in China. “There are too many students here in the United States that don’t have that chance (to study abroad) and some that do are reluctant to seize it. Maybe they feel that study abroad is something only rich kids do or maybe kids who go to certain colleges.” The Diversity Network agrees with the Obama administration that not only is study abroad to China important, but also that it is essential that diverse and underrepresented students take advantage of international education opportunities to China and other countries.
Reaching the goals of the “100,000 Strong Initiative” to increase the number and diversity of students studying in China will require that we as international educators accept the challenge and work to be more effective in recruiting and advising underserved students for study abroad to China. To be successful in this endeavor, we must do a better job in communicating to diverse students and their parents the positive impact a study abroad experience can have on their future academic and career goals. Reaching the 100,000 Strong goals will also require the nation’s Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to increase capacity to provide more of their students with international education opportunities to China.
The 100,000 Strong Initiative’s goal to increase the number and diversity of American students studying in China is exciting. To fully realize this goal will require innovative approaches for reaching underserved students who traditionally have not taken advantage of international education opportunities. The Diversity Network and its members are committed to supporting the 100,000 Strong Initiative and any other initiative, which aims at diversifying the locations and the students who pursue international education.
Andrew Gordon is the founder and president of Diversity Abroad. He is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, where he studied business, economics and Spanish. He has studied, traveled and worked throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and South America. He started Diversity Abroad in 2006 with the focus of increasing global awareness and engagement among students and young people with an emphasis on diverse and under-served populations.