Why we should be building bridges, not walls
“Whatever the outcome of the election, each of us owes it to future generations to embrace a sense of curiosity and acceptance of the world”
With the presidential election looming, IES Abroad president and CEO Mary Dwyer writes on the imperative of reaching out beyond US borders, whatever the outcome.
In just four days, Americans will head to the ballot box to choose our next president. The election outcome will have a significant impact on whether our country will continue to be constructively engaged in global matters related to trade, taxation, climate change, immigration, security and cultural exchange, or whether we will embark on a path toward isolationism, populism and nationalism.
The choice is stark. As President Obama pointed out in his final address to the United Nations, “We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration, or we can retreat into a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.”
As President Obama pointed out, “We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration, or we can retreat into a world sharply divided”
For the past two decades, I’ve had the privilege of fostering cross-cultural engagement by serving as president and CEO of IES Abroad, as we have offered study abroad programs to nearly 6,400 American college students each year. By embracing the enriching experience of living in a culture distinct from their own, these students learn adaptability, tolerance, and the ability to view the world through a different lens. Students are also provided the opportunity to converse in a different language. From Morocco to Germany, China to South Africa, there is simply no substitute for life outside the boundaries of one’s native soil. My only regret is that just one in 10 college students in our country benefit from this life-changing experience. Imagine what we could achieve if the number of students studying abroad increased to two in 10 college students?
One of the sentiments we hear most often from students returning from studying abroad is how many of their own preconceptions and biases were challenged during their time abroad. With more than 110,000 alumni now occupying leadership roles at all levels of our society, this heightened global perspective is imperative. In a recent survey of more than 3,400 of our study abroad alumni, 82% reported that their time abroad contributed to a more sophisticated way of looking at the world and 90% were influenced to seek a greater diversity of friends. Even better, this impact is long-lasting, with 23% of alumni still in contact with host-country friends. In an often divided world, these are the types of cross-cultural connections that lead to lasting change.
“One of the sentiments we hear most often from students is how their own preconceptions and biases were challenged during their time abroad”
What’s more, this experience translates to tangible results when these students enter the job market. 84% of students who study abroad report that their experience helped them build job skills, and within six months of graduation, study abroad alumni are employed in full-time job at a higher rate than those in the general student population, with salaries paying, on average, $6,000 more.
So, whatever the outcome of the election, each of us owes it to future generations to embrace a sense of curiosity and acceptance of the world. Whether it is taking your grandchild to the library to check out a book about the Maori, or encouraging a student you know to study abroad in Amsterdam or pursue a summer internship in Shanghai, the skills to effectively, humanely, and positively navigate the world can only be honed by exposure to other ideas, cultures and perspectives. It’s the best hope we have to bring our world together in peaceful engagement.