The Sun Did Rise Today, and Will Rise Again Tomorrow

We wanted to share a message we sent to the exchange students in our region this morning…

Dear Students,

The U.S. presidential election is over. It’s been a wild ride, one that you have been privileged to witness — yes, privileged, no matter which candidate you were hoping would win. It has been one of the most contentious, divisive campaigns this country has seen…believe it or not, it’s not the most contentious or the most divisive election in our history. It has brought to the surface the “high’s” of living in a democracy, and, we’re sad to say, it also has brought out some “low’s.” You may live with a host family who are rejoicing this morning, or you may live with a host family who are worrying about the future. All of your host families, regardless of who they voted for, are citizens of this democracy.

It’s the future we want you to think about, as well as the present. Now, the next phase begins. This, too, is part of the “American experiment” — what happens after a major election, even when half the population voted for someone else? You are here to witness that. Over the next few months, you will see the peaceful transition of power to a completely different group of leaders; President Obama noted this morning in his address to the nation that “the peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks our democracy.”

You will see peaceful disagreement with the policies of those leaders. You will, no doubt, also see less-than-peaceful disagreements. As President Obama also noted, democracy can be “messy.” The divisiveness mentioned above is significant, and it’s serious. It means we have a lot of work to do, both here in the U.S. as the new Administration takes office — as well as abroad, with you, your families, and your home cultures. You are part of what it’s all about.

We encourage all our students to talk to their host families about the meaning of the U.S. election and the meaning of democracy, open political discussion, free speech, and civil disobedience. All of these issues are part of what we hope you are learning during your exchange. Talk to your local program coordinator. Talk to us, too. As you no doubt have learned, Americans love to talk about these issues. What’s most important after yesterday is that it we all must continue to talk about these issues, and more.

 

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Study Abroad as an Element of Diplomacy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has received many positive reactions to her push for cultural exchange and global education.  In 2010, she energized the cultural and education exchange industry with a speech that barely lasted 1½ minutes.  In her comments, she stated that student exchange still serves a purpose, even in the 21st century.  Student exchange enriches the lives of the students, host families, and communities, she said, and helps to “build people-to-people connections that span the globe and last a lifetime.”

It’s all individual communication.  Secretary Clinton emphasized that the goodwill and exposure to other cultures that exchange programs foster on an individual student and family level are “critical to meeting the challenges of today’s world.”  She stated what many of us believe: that individuals can and do help – one person at a time – to improve communication among nations by “citizen diplomacy.”  At its basic premise, this means that each and every one of us can contribute in our own way to improving international relations.  A positive thought, to say the least.  It seems to be confirmed by what we see as these teens grow up; exchange students often go on to become leaders in their own countries and bring their widened vision of the world to their vision of leadership.

Secretary of State John Kerry has made an effort to continue what Secretary Clinton started.  In November 2013 remarks, he noted that “international education creates life-long friendships between students and strengthens the bonds between nations.” He emphasized that it’s not just about education; it’s an element of diplomacy and economics.  Those who gain a world view can help to bring the vision of their own country to others and better meet cross-border challenges; those who have such a world view can better compete in the global economy.  Secretary Kerry notes that the percentage of international students at the university level in the U.S. hasn’t really changed in the past decade (3.5 percent; the same share they represented in 2000), and he calls for a “much greater level of exchange.”

Opportunity just ahead
Copyright 2014 Lurin/Thinkstock.com

If you are interested in contributing to this vision, I encourage you to read some of my blog posts to learn more about student educational exchange, and contact an exchange program representative in your area.  Don’t just rush forward immediately – I’m not that kind of advocate.  Ask questions, make sure you are comfortable with the person you would be dealing with, and choose a student who you think would fit in your family’s lifestyle. Educate yourself about your student’s culture and country before he or she arrives.  Accept that you will change as a result of this process, and that it will be an adventure – hopefully, one that will last a lifetime.