The Departments of State and Education celebrate the 15th annual International Education Week November 17-21, 2014. During this week, literally thousands of events will be held around the world to highlight the benefits of global learning and student exchanges.
To understand why this is important, we have only to consider the consequences when people lack what international education provides – namely an objective understanding of the world that exists outside the narrow boundaries of our own communities and lives.
We know that, in some places, children are educated to see the globe as divided between “us” and “them.” They are told that personal fulfillment can only come by refighting ancient battles or by crushing the dreams of another.
That is the opposite of the kind of learning we honor during International Education Week.
At the Department of State, we see international education as a core component of our diplomacy. This is because, in the work we do every day, we see how vital it is that young people absorb what true international education teaches: how to think critically, the importance of civility, and a willingness to respond to contrary opinions with hard questions — not bitter denials or an insistence on dogma.
The development of these abilities is essential, but it does not happen automatically. It happens because of the dedication of our educators and the leadership of the academic community. It happens because so many top universities have made a commitment to helping our young people learn more about themselves by learning first-hand about the world. It happens because many businesses and foundations understand that global education is an extraordinarily wise and effective investment in the future.
The United States welcomes international students because they help bring a new and wider perspective into classrooms, because they contribute more than $27 billion each year to our economy, and because – upon returning home – they contribute to a better understanding of American ideals, policies, and culture.
Wherever I go in the world, I run into foreign ministers, prime ministers, businesspeople and activists who have studied in the United States. Here in the United States, I interact constantly with talented men and women who have spent a part of their education in study abroad. Recent surveys are clear that major employers value the skills and experience that international education provides.
It is evidence of this issue’s importance that President Obama has placed a strong emphasis on reaching out to young leaders on every continent and to do so by increasing both the size and the diversity of our student exchange programs. As Secretary of State, I echo this call and urge U.S. students from all walks of life to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad.
It has been said that all history is a race between education and catastrophe. Obviously, that is a race we must win, and international education provides a platform for victory.