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.”
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.