Guest Post: Renewing America’s Global Leadership

By Ursula Oaks, NAFSA: Association of International Educators

When President Obama stood before students and service members at the National Defense University in early March and committed the resources of his administration to “renewing diplomacy as a tool of American power” he rightly said that we cannot “leave dormant any aspect of the full arsenal of American capability.” The bold path our president has charted puts the United States on a new footing in its relationships with the world, one that emphasizes listening and mutual respect as cornerstones of responsible and constructive leadership.  This new course requires our country to become much better informed about and engaged in the world. A proven way to accomplish this is to make international education a national priority.

For all our successes, we have a long way yet to go on this front. Far too few American college students – about 1 percent – participate in study abroad programs each year; far too few are versed in other languages; and far too few American have the opportunity to participate in volunteer-service opportunities like the Peace Corps. Moreover, barriers to attracting international students and scholars to our nation’s colleges and universities remain, weakening our ability to be out front in producing the next generation of world leaders and succeeding economically in this age of global connectedness.  

NAFSA, in a policy statement issued March 18, applauds President Obama’s commitment to a new chapter in American leadership and engagement in the world and pledges its support in contributing to a shared future of peace and security by advancing international education. NAFSA dedicates itself to four specific goals we believe would create an America that is much more connected with the world, competitive in the global economy, and able to exercise responsible international leadership:

  • Everyone who graduates from college in this country should have a basic understanding of the world beyond our shores and be proficient in a foreign language;
  • At least one million American college students – four times the current number -should study abroad each year in high quality programs around the globe and for academic credit;
  • International students and scholars who wish to pursue their academic objectives in our country should be able to do so, and we should ensure that they feel welcome in our midst;
  • International exchange and volunteer-service programs should be significantly increased, and Americans should be challenged by renewed calls to international service for the sake of their country and the world, as President Kennedy did nearly 50 years ago.

President Obama’s understanding of and appreciation for the value of international experience and cross-cultural sensitivity is clear, whether it be in his frequent references to the formative experience of being the son of a foreign student, his recruitment of leaders with international experience into his administration, or his support, as a senator, for the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act. Join the conversation and tell us your ideas for creating a more globally connected and engaged America.

Ursula Oaks has been a member of the public policy team at NAFSA since 2000, directing media outreach for the world’s largest professional association dedicated to international education.

Guests posts are the opinions of the respective authors and published here to further the discourse on America’s global engagement and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MountainRunner.