“What does one wear to the White House?” was one tweet I read as I prepared for a truly unique DC event. On Tuesday, December 9, I joined 100 of our country’s most influential travel bloggers—from big players like Yahoo Travel to start-ups like Adventure Girl—for the White House Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. For IIE and our colleague organizations, the topic is so close to our hearts: how do we encourage young Americans to study, volunteer, and work abroad?
Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, laid out the facts: while 50 percent of American college students intend to study abroad, less than 10 percent actually do. An impressive group of senior administration officials told us why we must do better: international engagement is absolutely vital to America’s national interests. We must get Americans out into the world, bring international students here, and show that America’s doors are open to the world.
By how? Barriers such as cost, curriculum, and culture are high. Americans are disinterested, even disengaged. Not enough minorities, men, and science and engineering students participate. We heard from panelists about many needs: starting sooner by involving teachers, language study, and the K-12 sector; being smarter by getting parents on board; and above all getting the word out in a more engaging way through communications that convey the great value of study abroad to personal and professional growth.
We need champions. IIE already has more than 450 in the commitment partners of Generation Study Abroad, our bold campaign to double the number of Americans who study abroad by the end of this decade. We are thrilled that the White House hosted this event, as it perfectly complements Generation Study Abroad. From the huge enthusiasm in the room on December 9, and continuing on through twitter and conversations such as #GenerationStudyAbroad and #StudyAbroadBecause, it is clear that travel bloggers can be great champions too.
The Summit ended Ted Talk-style with a “lightening round” panel. Established leaders such as National Geographic and the Travel Channel joined innovators such as iHeartMedia and the Minerva Project to source new ideas and perspectives. IIE recently had a similar “think tank” effort for Generation Study Abroad and produced white paper. What emerged during this last panel on Tuesday was the clear sense that we need to not just promote and encourage study abroad, but to completely re-energize and re-imagine it. In keeping with a new generation, study abroad should not be about where to go, but what to do and what to build most productively while there. Travel experiences must be multi-faceted and authentic.
And the message must be clear. As one panelist said, “We need Americans to know: you go away to a foreign country and come back better.” Whatever we wear to the White House, I think we can all agree on that.