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A new bill facing approval in the Senate offers 120 million in increased funding for study abroad programs.

The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act has passed in the House of Representatives and is currently moving on to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If passed, the act would provide 40 million dollars in 2010 and 80 million in 2011 to colleges, universities, individual students, and nongovernmental organizations that provide study abroad opportunities.

The stated goal of the act is to broaden American students’ understanding of other cultures, to increase the number of minority and low-income students who study abroad, and to encourage students to study in developing countries (more than two thirds of American study abroad students study in Western Europe).

At first, it sounds great. Studying abroad is a jarring, lingering lesson in increased awareness for many American students. It can arguably create a paradigm shift in the way they see and understand the world, and the way they see and think about the United States and its government and media, and I certainly think this is a good thing.

It can, of course, also be a great way to have a hot fling with a French girl and get wasted every night for a year, but we’ll try to be optimistic here and assume that for every ten kids hanging out with the other Americans getting blasted on cheap wine in the plaza there are one or two who are going to come back changed, and perhaps slightly more compassionate and curious about, other people and cultures.

Photo: rachfog

But is that what this plan is really all about? The description of the bill on the website of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) quotes Marlene Johnson, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, as saying:

“[Senators Durbin and Wicker] understand that the global education of our college students is absolutely essential to strengthening America’s position as a responsible leader on the world stage and ensuring its competitiveness in the global economy. Now more than ever, we need to invest wisely to meet these national needs.”

It goes on to mention the importance of study abroad programs to our “economic competitiveness, future diplomacy, and security.”

Sounds an awful lot to me like sending kids abroad to…discover new markets? Convince everyone of just how compassionate and warm and big-hearted America is, and how it’d be just fine if the U.S came to dominate their country and say, their economy a bit more?

Call me cynical here, but this sounds a bit less like “perhaps we should understand other countries more instead of invading them” and a bit more like “this is a good and effective way to spread U.S dominance!” After all, what exactly does study abroad have to do with economic competitiveness?

I can understand security, perhaps; there’s the vaguely naive, long-shot hope that well-meaning study abroad students might do something to alleviate resentment against Americans, or that through a combined effort to create mutually respectful study abroad exchanges and not to alienate the rest of the world politically and diplomatically we might change some of the more negative views of the U.S – but the thought of study abroad for the purposes of increasing competitiveness in the global economy I find plainly disturbing.

Plus, if we follow that competitiveness to a logical end, well, wouldn’t we be shopping at Nike in Sub-Saharan Africa, eating McDonald’s, watching the latest Hollywood flick at a mega-plex in an air conditioned mall in Dakar? Meeting friendly people in Laos and Angola and the Ukraine who work for massive American corporations, wearing American clothes, driving American cars, eating American food? Here in Mexico you can already see this global competitiveness taking place – in Sam’s Club, whole avenues of American chain restaurants, mega-malls, and enormous superstores superseding local markets. In ten more years of study abroad, imagine the cultural exchange that awaits American students!

What do you think, Matador readers? I’d be curious to know your take on this bill, and whether you slant towards hope or cynicism, or hover somewhere between the two.

Language + Study Abroad


About The Author

Sarah Menkedick

Matador Contributing Editor Sarah Menkedick has traveled, lived, and taught on five continents, and is constantly in pursuit of spicy food, dark beer, and new places to run. She is an MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh.

  • JoAnna

    I see where you’re coming from here, Sarah, and I think you bring up some good points. I think there is a big difference between studying abroad and an exchange. When American students sign up for study abroad programs, I think a lot of times they’re put in English-language classes with other Americans and then they go on weekend excursions and such to “experience” the culture.

    However, I believe that exchange programs actually put students in classes with the students enrolled at the university. These students sometimes live with host families or in the dorms with the “locals.” This might be more of an authentic experience and one in which students actually do more than just party all semester.

    Having never studied abroad, I can’t speak for exactly what the experience is like, but I do know people who have studied abroad and participated in exchange programs.

    I am concerned that there is actually verbiage in the act that could be interpreted as you’ve suggested. But if our goal is world domination, then there’s really no point to study abroad. Any cultural experience would be lost at that point.

    If they wanted Mickey D’s and Starbucks, students could just stay home.

  • Bob

    How can you suggest that it’s a bad thing for people (especially students) to go abroad?

    Economics is not a zero-sum game. Greater economic competition makes goods and services cheaper for the consumer, which makes everyone richer.

    It’s not an “America Wins / Rest of World Loses” situation, global trade in the free world is a “win-win-win” situation, America wins, our trading partners win, and the global economy is strengthened, so everyone who engages the global economy wins.

  • Sarah Menkedick

    Hi Bob,

    I’m not suggesting it’s a bad thing for students to go abroad. I’m suggesting that perhaps this act promoting study abroad really isn’t about cultural exchange as much as it’s about cultural domination (namely, U.S cultural domination). The wording of the act seems strange to me – do you think study abroad is about maintaining American economic competitiveness? It simply seems odd – and suspicious – to me to collate the two things.

    As far as America wins/rest of the world loses situation, actually, that’s pretty much exactly what global trade is at the moment. Countries like Mexico are forced to import corn as American corporations continue to ruthlessly sell subsidized American corn at incredibly low prices, putting Mexican growers out of business, replacing local corn with genetically grown American corn, impoverishing farmers, and leaving whole villages abandoned by migration. At the same time the U.S buys Mexican coffee and bananas at a pittance, charging infinitely more for them in the U.S than what workers make to produce them (hence the rise of fair trade, a response to this gaping inequality). That, and the U.S uses cheap (criminally cheap) Mexican labor to produce expensive U.S goods (i.e., Nike shoes) which are then sold at two or three times the price in Mexico, far out of the range of what any Mexican worker can afford.

    So yes, the U.S gets richer. Mexico gets poorer. It is like this in most developing countries with which the U.S “trades.”

  • Christine

    Two things came to my mind as I read your piece, Sarah. When I studied abroad in Florence (ah yes, Western Europe ;) and lived in a building with almost all Americans, I still was able to develop a cultural awareness about Italy. I think it’s almost impossible to live in a place and not be affected by it, more than I ever could have effected Italy. Now, put all those Americans in Florence (and there were plenty of us), and I have no doubts that we effected it, probably not in a great way.

    The second thought was, wow, this kinda sounds like the idea behind the Peace Corps. Once again, I think that most of the Peace Corps volunteers that go around the world are doing it for altruistic reasons (I know I couldn’t have survived in the bush of Zambia for three years like my friend from high school willingly did), and are forever changed (usually in the positive sense) by what they see and the people they meet. The government? I think it’s so they can keep their greedy little hands in everything and can “get in” at a moment’s notice to these places if needed (and force them to buy our GMO crops, among other things). The projects are often what America thinks developing societies need, not actually what the societies believe they need, and the timeline is often way too short to implement anything sustainable.

    Good for us and not good for them? I don’t know. I think there are probably both positives and negatives at play here for both sides, but ultimately, it’s time to think if the positive outweighs the negative for the people who live there, not for us.

    And to add to your comment above, there are even issues with fair trade (coffee in particular) actually garnering the people who grow the plants a fair wage. Sometimes, I feel like this is just another attempt to pat ourselves on the back without really knowing the true outcome.

  • Joel Runyon

    Interesting, increased competition produces what is desired by the masses.

    If the masses desire cheap goods, then the producers will produce cheap goods.

    However, when people desire more than simply a price point, producers produce something more than a price point. You make this case with your example. Fair Trade Coffee. When people desire a coffee that’s not only good but also helps others in the process, they buy that coffee. That’s competition right there.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with America being spending money to protect it’s interests (to an extent). I.e. As an analogy, I think it’s okay to spend money building your own house and making sure you have a nice house, but I’m not sure you should go shoot your neighbor because he does a better job at work than you do.

    I think our individual interests as a nation: Do we want to buy a lot of really cheap crap or do we want to be the leaders in creating opportunities that result in the strengthening of our country as well as others? Whichever choice we choose, there will be producers that will be there to give us what we want.

    • Sarah Menkedick

      Hi Joel,

      I think when you’re referring to “the masses” you’re referring to Americans, right? Because I’m sure Mexicans would also like cheap goods, but what they’re forced to import under NAFTA is literally about ten (or often much more) times the price what it is in the states. The Nike shoes they make for pennies? Those are so far out of their price range it’s absurd. Their cheap labor = cheap goods for Americans, who actually aren’t “the masses.” The masses are everyone that produces cheap goods for the United States so that we can continue to get richer and richer. That is not competition – it is unequal and unfair trade in which we buy, say, coffee, for pennies (farmers are often paid as little as three pesos per kilo), and sell it for 10 or 12 dollars a pound. That is exploitation for the benefit of Americans making a profit. Claiming that it’s simply a question of “competition” assumes that the world is governed by what Americans want and how they feel, regardless of how this affects the daily life of people in other countries. Oh, now some Americans (a very small percentage of them) buy fair trade because they like the thought of farmers earning a fair wage! Well, great! Congratulations, a few lucky Mexican farmers! Now you can feed your families and not live in shacks without running water. Good thing that’s a hot selling point right now. Too bad it’s a tiny, tiny corner of the overall coffee market. I guess the Mexican farmers should just sit around waiting until more Americans decide fair trade is an enticing concept.

      It really has nothing to do with what is ethically just and everything to do with the competition in the American marketplace. We expect the developing world to sit back in squalor and wait until a few Americans decide they’re into fair trade instead of universally saying wait, actually, this is deeply unethical.

      And Bob, as far as jobs and NAFTA’s growing economy, the massive waves of Mexican immigration to the U.S began right after NAFTA and have only grown and grown. Is that because Mexico’s economy is growing so exponentially and healthily? No, it’s because Mexico is forced to export a ton of cheap raw goods and import American-manufactured industrial goods at inflated prices. So farmers get poorer, people work for a handful of pesos on which they can barely survive in American factories to produce goods that are cheap for Americans (NOT for Mexicans) and American corporations get richer and richer.

      • Joel Runyon

        I agree with you, but how can you change it? Let’s talk about the nature of business.

        Most companies are in business to make a profit. They’re are technically responsible to one group of people – their shareholders. 3 things can happen to allow farmers better treatment.

        1) All Coffee is Produced by Fair Trade. Customers outraged at the idea of mexican farmers getting pennies for their work refuse to buy coffee produced the traditional way and fair trade is produced.

        2) Shareholders decide that they want to treat others that their company affects with more dignity and be accountable for their actions. This means that they’ll pay more for the workers wages but also results in higher prices for the consumer unless the company decides it doesn’t care about profits – an unlikely scenario when we noted at the beginning that “most companies are in business to make a profit.” The only other option is the next one.

        3) The company decides it doesn’t care about profits. Unlikely scenario in any account. The people founding the business didn’t want to start a charity, they founded a business to make money. The stockholders don’t want their investments to tank, after all their 401k and other future investments for retirement are partially allocated to them. So this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

        Out of those 3 options, which one do you have control over? You’re not a coffee executive (if you were, your rant would be a little bit ironic), and I’m going to guess you’re not holding any major stock in Starbucks. BUT you still can choose who you buy your coffee from. My point is, that until the market shifts (and I would argue that it is) to a more conscientious buyer instead of a price point buyer, how are living conditions going to improve? If the people buying the product don’t demand a different type of product (or else) the company doesn’t have anyone else in the chain of command that will say “Hey, maybe we should do this to cut profits.” The reality is that the consumer has the smallest voice, but is also the one, if they decide to stop buying, the one that has ultimate power.

        This seems like a subject you’re passionate about and I’m not really disagreeing with you. I’m just saying that there are a limited number of options on how to approach it and fix the issue.

        • Sarah Menkedick

          Hi Joel,

          I appreciate your taking the time for a thoughtful response. I disagree with you, however, about these available options. Basically, all of these options take a very American, business-oriented standpoint, as if everything naturally depends on the (American) business and the (American) consumer. I think what is missing here is the government regulation factor – NAFTA was a government-negotiated, government-sanctioned agreement, and the rules governing free trade are ultimately legislated by the governments involved. It is not simply ‘a business is created, makes profits, develops shareholders, and then whoops, faces a moral dilemma it resolves or doesn’t with regards to consumers.’ Rather, a business – most likely now, a corporation – is created, spends hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign donations, and through manipulations of government policy comes to make an enormous profit. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the American agricultural corporations who have managed to become enormously wealthy off of unhealthy, unsustainable subsidies for cheap corn.

          Of course businesses are not “charities,” and I’m not proposing they should be. However, they should not be unethical, exploitative mechanisms which make enormous profits out of impoverishing vast numbers of people in the developing world. There needs to be government regulation which prevents American corporations from selling cheap subsidized corn to the developing world, putting farmers out of work, and allowing corporations like Monsanto to develop a whole bunch of genetically engineered crops.

          I think what is missing from a lot of these discussions of “natural” economics is the fact that they are very much engineered by governments – particularly, the American government. NAFTA, for example, is not some inherent natural law of competition that emerged organically – it is a policy drawn up by politicians paid by massive corporations. This policy can be changed using the same legislative channels that made it.

  • Bob

    When you talk about the wording of the bill you need to remember what is trying to be accomplished: using American tax dollars to fund study abroad for students.

    To get a bill passed, the author of it needs to convince the American taxpayer that what they are proposing is beneficial to American interests, so naturally they’re going to include wording that showcases both the cultural and economic benefits of their plan.

    Economically, I think your point of view is selectively narrow. Mexico’s economy benefits greatly from the massive amount of trade between our two countries and has grown at an amazing pace since NAFTA was introduced. Yes, developing countries are the manufacturers of many goods consumed in the industrialized world. That consumption provides millions of jobs and foreign investment dollars to developing countries (like China, Mexico, India, Brazil, Indonesia, etc.) which improves the quality of life for those people by making their dollar/peso/yuan/rupee/etc. go further.

  • A Farrand

    I think Bob is on to something here… The Senators are trying to “sell” their bill, and I’m all for it, so I don’t care what justifications they have to use to get it passed. Anyone who has studied abroad – whether you’re among the ones “changed” by the experience or not (and I would argue that everyone who studies abroad is changed by it) – you know the experience has great value for all involved.

    Thanks for highlighting this important legislation – let’s hope it becomes reality.


  • Janice Mulholland

    We were very interested to read your comments on the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act. As a major supporter of the bill from the beginning, we wanted to weigh in with our view. NAFSA is an association of individuals worldwide inspired by the conviction that international education – connecting students, scholars, educators, and citizens across borders – is a critical tool in achieving a new era of peace. By bringing together people from differing cultures, religions, and life experiences, we believe that international education builds the foundation necessary for the dialogue and partnership that are fundamental to fostering peace, security, and well-being – for America and for the world.

    It is out of a similar conviction that the Simon bill was born. The legislation was inspired by and named after the late Senator Paul Simon from Illinois, who believed that a more globally educated American citizenry would lift our vision and responsiveness to the world. The Simon Act creates a program to ensure that many more of our college graduates have the opportunity to live and learn internationally, and are better able, through those global experiences, to understand and engage the world they are graduating into.

    Today only about one percent of American college students ever study abroad. We need many more college graduates who understand global issues, possess strong cross-cultural skills, speak foreign languages, and have the ability to listen to and learn from their counterparts in other countries. This is what we believe the Simon bill is all about, and is why we support it. We hope many of you will join us in this effort.

    • Carlo

      I like this response much better than the quote from the article:

      ““[Senators Durbin and Wicker] understand that the global education of our college students is absolutely essential to strengthening America’s position as a responsible leader on the world stage and ensuring its competitiveness in the global economy.”

      From that quote it’s very easy to be cynical…I question, who is the bill really benefiting? The students/citizens? Or America the brand?

  • Bettina Hansel

    Study abroad is enormously popular but it also encompasses a wide range of program models. The so-called “island” program is comparable to the guided tour: a group of young Americans staying together and studying in classes especially designed for them (and in English). This obviously limits the potential for these students to experience the host culture directly and may lead to groups of Americans being seen behaving badly in foreign capitals, even though their activities are not so different from the ones on their home campuses.

    Programs that involve learning and communicating with people in the host country provide much more challenge and potential for students to really expand their horizons. I suppose that would also make them better able to market US goods and services in other countries, but I agree that’s an odd priority to emphasize. It’s similar to the idea that the purpose of a university education is to prepare you for a job. Very few jobs require you to write term papers, for example, and very few university courses teach you how to supervise others on the job. There is a connection, of course, and there is enormous value to a good university education, but the value is more about setting a pattern for learning than about getting a job.

    Similarly, the value of study abroad is more about stretching beyond and “unlearning” some of your own culture’s assumptions than it is about economic competitiveness. But you neatly ignored the goal of “future diplomacy.” Though most study abroad students will not become diplomats, this is very much the type of experience that future diplomats need and it makes good sense for the government to fund it.

  • Scott

    I agree with the bill if there is a way to make sure that American students take classes not only with other Americans, but more with students of the country where they are studying. Then I think this will help to remedy the issues that Sarah had listed. Mainly because by not isolating themselves with their own countrymen American students can come to realize the disparity that is created by the current situation. They would be more chance of those same American students trying to create a better balance in the world. I also agree with Joel that this shift is happening, even if only at a snails pace.

  • Aleks

    Although I think Sarah brings up a good point, I am definitely more hopeful about the intentions of the bill.

    I studied abroad in Poland, England, and Italy (yes, all European countries!) and I definitely returned a more open-minded, culturally aware individual.

    Sure there were people in my programs that just wanted to party, but to balance them out, there were also people who took their experiences seriously and attempted to really get a feel for the country and its culture.

    Party animals or not, I think everyone came back a changed person (for the better).

    If it was up to me, studying abroad should be mandatory for all college-bound students. Even if it is to Western Europe. :)

  • Rita P

    I studied abroad in Paris, where (thanks to the canadian government + my university), i received some grants which were greatly helpful for my time there. However, I stayed solely on my own, no host family, no other canadians met during my time there, and i went to class at the sorbonne dutifully every day. It was tough as i was almost left completely alone, but as Aleks said it made me much more aware of myself than any other experience would have. Great for personal and professional development, surely. I don’t think Canada has a bill like that, but I have seen (sorry!) my share of foreign students (and yes, especially americans) while in Paris who went through exchange programs where classes were exclusive for them and as sweet as they were, their french did not improve much. your call. Living with a host family or mingling with local uni crowd definitely has their upsides. Thats how erasmus work, too.

  • Jared Krauss

    As a freshman college student at the University of Iowa I completely support this bill. I’m currently studying Arabic and International Studies. I have plans to study abroad hopefully 3 times over the next three years; I would even go more, if possible.

    I think the important fact is being missed here. It does not matter why Congress passes the bill, so long as it is passed, or not, depending on your position. I’m for it being passed. That being said- It’s not possible for Congressman to control every student who studies abroad, it’s not possible for them to use them as a tool for American dominance throughout the rest of the world. The person that matters is the student who does the traveling.

    Also, I think we are all being a bit too cynical towards the actions students take while studying abroad. Anyone who has experienced the culture of another country should be able to tell you that it was visiting Tate Modern or Buckingham Palace that gave them their love for England. It was the little things that they did. For me it was the late night runs to curry restaurants or kebab shops. It was Borough Market every morning to get food and getting to know the vendors there. It was talking with people on the tube and in the pub.

    If a student chooses to party, they are still experiencing the culture. It’s the culture they want to experience. To say that the only way to experience culture is to sit in a coffee shop and drink coffee and have long discussions over national topics with locals, or to visit all the important heritage sites, or to live in a more local place, in my opinion, is so open minded that it has become narrow minded.
    There is culture everywhere. In everything you do, while abroad, you experience culture.

    So, as someone who is planning on taking advantage of this bill if it is passed, and still planning to study abroad if it is not passed, it’s the action that matters. I travel for the sake of travel, not for some higher purpose. I travel to experience. I’ll party, I’ll sit in coffee shops and speak with locals about national and world topics, I’ll visit heritage sites, I’ll go to the Louvre, I’ll take a ride in the gondola. We should all take care to not be cynical towards the way someone experiences culture, because it does not fit our standard view.

    I hope I didn’t insult anyone, but that’s your choice to be insulted.


  • Jess C

    What poor, stereotype ridden writing:

    “It can, of course, also be a great way to have a hot fling with a French girl and get wasted every night for a year, but we’ll try to be optimistic here and assume that for every ten kids hanging out with the other Americans getting blasted on cheap wine in the plaza there are one or two who are going to come back changed, and perhaps slightly more compassionate and curious about, other people and cultures.”


    “Plus, if we follow that competitiveness to a logical end, well, wouldn’t we be shopping at Nike in Sub-Saharan Africa, eating McDonald’s, watching the latest Hollywood flick at a mega-plex in an air conditioned mall in Dakar? Meeting friendly people in Laos and Angola and the Ukraine who work for massive American corporations, wearing American clothes, driving American cars, eating American food?”

    I don’t know how you could come up with this reference, or why you assume this is how nine out of ten Americans would spend their times abroad, but you sound downright hateful. I don’t get blasted on cheap wine in plazas of the nations I visit, and I work very hard to travel while there are many European kids who’s parents foot the bill of their trips, and all I see them doing is drinking a load, taking drugs, and sleeping with whomever shows a slight interest.

    Your reasoning that this must be some attempt at economic exploitation is basically, first and foremost, that American students could never earn anything from their experiences, as they are obviously going to be too drunk (especially kids from low-income families like mine, right?) to pay attention or care. Hell, they’re American, right? This must all exclusively stink of aspirations of world dominance. It’s got nothing to do with broadening the minds of America’s youth.

    Even if the wording is a bit off. Even if it seems like there could be underlying reasons why this bill was passed, I would appreciate it if you would reconsider how you talk about my people. Our government may be really screwed up, but MY generation is not happy about it.

    My wonder is where were you sitting, and what were you thinking when you spewed this rhetoric? I assume you are the same sort who blames Bush when your car breaks down or someone steals from you. Believe it or not, the United States isn’t really out to get you, and wherever you’re from, I’m certain there are crooked businessmen sleeping in the same bed with the crooks that run our government. Don’t be so holy.

    • Sarah Menkedick

      Hi Jess,

      You seem to be awfully defensive here about being an American and my supposed anti-Americanness. You say:

      “Your reasoning that this must be some attempt at economic exploitation is basically, first and foremost, that American students could never earn anything from their experiences, as they are obviously going to be too drunk (especially kids from low-income families like mine, right?) to pay attention or care.”

      Actually, this isn’t my “reasoning” at all. You’re reading some broad, deterministic generalizations into my writing here. You take my statement out of context and attribute determiners (“never”) to it that I specifically avoided. I said study abroad “can be” a great excuse to party, and in my experience (having studied abroad for a year in France and lived abroad for the past five years) it often is. However, before I made that assertion I also said:

      “Studying abroad is a jarring, lingering lesson in increased awareness for many American students. It can arguably create a paradigm shift in the way they see and understand the world, and the way they see and think about the United States and its government and media, and I certainly think this is a good thing.”

      So nowhere am I saying that Americans can never learn anything from study abroad. As far as the stereotype of American study abroad students hanging out together and partying, well, if you have ever studied abroad then you’d know that this is a reality. Not ALL American students do this, of course. SOME do it. That’s why I very specifically made the point that study abroad is an eye-opening and insightful experience for some students, and an excuse to party for others; a distinction you obviously ignored or missed completely.

      As for my “stereotypes,” it seems mightily condescending and naive of you to assume that people working for massive American corporations, and landscapes dominated by American chain stores and corporate interests, are “stereotypes.” If you’ve ever traveled through Guatemala or China or a host of other countries (too many to name) you’ll see exactly how American economic “interests” shape the landscape. Calling this a stereotype is just flat wrong. It is the economic and political reality in many countries, and certainly the economic and political reality behind the wealth in the United States.

      And as far as being holy, I don’t go claiming Americans or any other people are “my people.” I am an American, which you obviously did not realize, and I am certainly not yours, nor are any of my American friends your people. It is awfully holy to go speaking for an entire nation and an entire generation. You even go so far as to put “MY” in all caps – since when do you speak for and possess your generation? Be careful to distinguish your point of view from that of your fellow Americans.

      You seem to have missed the point of this article entirely. You only concede for one sentence that “the wording is a bit off” – actually, that was the point of my whole article. You seem to have interpreted it somehow as a tirade against Americans, when actually it is meant to question the language of a study abroad bill which, instead of being about global understanding, seems to be about economic dominance.

  • Michael

    Dear Sarah,

    You have taken an extremely cynical stance on the Paul Simon bill. In all honesty, I know absolutely nothing about the bill, having learned about it from your article. Unfortunately, I, along with many of your readers object strongly to your emotional, gut-reaction to reading about the bill. Like the other readers who may have dwelled too much on the wording of your article, you have also concerned yourself too much with the language of the bill.

    I completely understand WHY you are cynical: personal travel experiences within Latin America can be very disheartening with the “American” (US) influence visible everywhere you go, with fast food so well accepted – this bothers me more than anything: the exportation of the US fast food culture and the subsequent deterioration of local food traditions.

    Excuse my digression, but I just want to let you know that I do relate with you on many levels, especially in regards to international trade issues. However, if we can keep things in perspective, especially our emotional issues, and take a rational look at the Paul Simon Bill, the benefits of such initiatives can truly be appreciated.

    As other readers have already stated, the bill is written to sell the benefits of such expenditures to the voters (I might argue other congressmen and the president, more than the general public). Your conclusion that the bill is written to encourage “economic dominance” is 100% cynical.

    If you tried to sell the inherent value of traveling and the benefits of greater cultural understanding to the leaders of any influential organization, you would most likely make similar arguments. Increasing the worldly knowledge of the US population will inevitably lead to improved international cooperation, in humanitarian efforts, inter-governmental relations, as well as business. If you were to create a proposal for a more peaceful world, what would you propose we do? The passport statistics in the US alone are enough to justify any programs to encourage international travel.

    For better or worse, America is a world leader – politically, culturally, or otherwise. Until the US is usurped by another world power(s), we will remain an influential voice on the world stage. Why do we not embrace initiatives to promote cross-cultural understanding in the best way possible (i.e. encouraging Americans to think beyond their borders)?

    You have been labeled cynical for your divisive writing and the pessimistic perspective of your article. Your “best guess” that only one or two of ten US students that study abroad will come back changed or deeply affected by their experience is just as narrow-minded as the politicians and MNCs you detest.

    Of course, legislation is one thing – the appropriate allocation of resources and the administration of study abroad and exchange programs is a separate matter. We can only hope that the millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on quality programs. This requires some wishful thinking, but I would much rather have this money spent at increasing the accessibility of study abroad opportunities than countless other government programs or wars, for example.

    I think I can speak for both of us when I say that I hope US study abroad programs attempt to integrate students into the local culture, instead of the exportation of ignorant Americans, on the scale of the caribbean cruise industry.

    Ultimately, the success of the US will rely on more global insight and we do need American’s to be better ambassadors. Fundamental changes in our culture will require the participation and influence of the government. I hope that this bill, along with future initiatives help to broaden the minds of young Americans and encourage them to better understand the the world outside of the US.

    Please excuse my rambling argument… it is a late Sunday night and I felt compelled to respond to your article!


  • Anne

    I’m really glad you posted something on this. I think that this bill is reflective of a greater shift in Washington – that really started with the election of Obama – toward embracing global exchange.

    I think that what’s happening is that politicians are realizing that most Americans don’t have passports and are suffering from a comparatively bad public education system. This is scary on many levels. For one thing, the reality is that the US is worried about its place in the future, and if workers and citizens can’t keep up with a globalized world, and a multilingual, cosmpolitan global workplace, then it will simply not be able to compete with other countries in terms of human resources. Do you see what I’m saying? I think this is less about opening up more Micky D’s and more about not losing jobs to China and India.

    I’m glad that you’re questioning the motives behind this bill, and I agree that it’s not all bread and roses. I’m rereading the Confessions of an Economic Hitman right now, and it’s good to be reminded of just how nefarious and secretive the US can be in its dealings abroad. But what’s great about that book is how its author is transformed from an amoral, turn-a-blind-eye, fully complicit actor in the exploitation game to an outspoken activist. And what fuels his transformation? Exposure to local people and culture, and a close-up view at poverty and environmental degradation.

    My hope is that this bill helps lower-income students get out and see the world. And then become empowered global citizens who want to change it.

    Also, I just recently read this article: ( which advocates a Teach for the World type program similar to the Peace Corps in the hopes of better educating American citizens about global poverty and the world at large. I think it would be interesting to look at if you’re wondering about other, possibly warmer/fuzzier motives for funding student travel.

  • ClearCause Foundation

    $130M – America does need to broaden it’s horizons and develop world leaders. That said. Before we spend over 100 million or export students to China like a commodity, 100,000 Strong, perhaps we could step back and ask the lawmakers to establish an oversight, qualifications, minimum standards of practice and safety, and transparent reporting on the reputations of abrod programs before putting our next generation of world leaders out there.

  • Anonymous

    This article was written some time ago but I find it a little sad to read. Having studied twice in Salamanca, Spain (Yes, Western Europe) I have noticed a couple of things that cause this article and argument to show flaws.
    First it would seem that there is an assumption that American student alone are the only group who often will not assimilate into to the culture and country they are visiting. They arrive on a study abroad and continue to speak English and hang out with their friends from the states. This is not completely true. Yes, it does happen. But it also happens in the exact same way with students from China, Japan, Gabon, Australia, France, Spain (when they go abroad) etc. It is the nature of traveling as a group. You continue to stay with those who make you feel most comfortable. In many U.S. universities you see the exact same thing with international student groups from all around the world.
    There also seems to be a slight assumption that by having students travel to Western Europe from the U.S. they are not “really” having an experience that can open their eyes to any kind of new awareness. This too is false. Most people in the United States are not familiar with the impacts that the World Wars had on western Europe. “We” know how it impacted us and what is in our history books, but we have no idea how such recent history shaped today’s countries and political climates. Certainly when we see Spain today we see a “Western” country, but its democracy is only around 35 years old. THAT is worth students learning.
    We also need to have students learn about the countries that helps form the foundation of our own country. If a student doesn’t understand the impact that other nations had on our own country how can they understand the impact and history that we ourselves have had on other countries?
    We in the United States have been a closed society for many years. By allowing more students the opportunity to travel abroad (in whatever capacity) it will open their eyes to new opportunities and ideas on ways to work together with our partners in the world and how to improve ourselves at home.
    While I admit that the average, “ugly American” does annoy me when I have been abroad, I will also say that I have seen other groups act equally bad. The problem in the end is that while we live in a world that is fast becoming much smaller with a global business culture, Americans are being left behind. Many are unable to speak another language, many have never been outside of the United States, many pretend to be aware of what is happening outside of our boarders but have no clue. In the end, what little a study abroad can afford a student, whether that be a new relationship with a friend overseas, a new perspective on the world, a second language or a new idea…it is more than having nothing at all.

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