From students and interns to researchers and teachers, throughout the Western Hemisphere the opportunity to live in each other’s countries, learn each other’s languages, study together, and share knowledge is essential to our connected economies and our relationships.
This is the premise of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative that aims to increase educational exchanges between the United States and Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada. Our goal is to reach 100,000 student exchanges moving in both directions annually between the United States and the countries of the Americas by 2020.
Last month, during a Cinco de Mayo reception at the White House, President Obama explained the critical importance of these educational exchanges:
Education helps us find new frontiers for collaboration between the United States and Mexico, and throughout the hemisphere. That’s why I launched the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” initiative to significantly increase educational exchanges among our countries. And I just came from a discussion with leaders in business and education who see these exchanges as key to maintaining their competitive advantage. They understand that if we're serious about building a 21st century workforce then we're going to have to build knowledge and relationships that reach across borders. And that’s how we’re going to create new jobs and develop new markets, explore new ideas and unleash the hemisphere’s extraordinary opportunity.
On Friday, I spoke on a U.S. government panel led by Ricardo Zuniga, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, to more than 60 members of the Latin American Business Council (CEAL) at the Organization of American States. These outstanding business leaders agree that as we expand opportunities for educational exchanges, scientific research partnerships, and cross-border innovation, we develop a skilled, competitive 21st century workforce. I encouraged CEAL to support 100,000 Strong in the Americas through public-private partnerships, internships, and mentoring our youth.
I’m proud to announce that the fourth round of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas capacity-building grant competition opened on June 16. This round, funded by ExxonMobil, is open to higher educational institutions in the Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the United States that promote study abroad opportunities in the fields of Engineering, Physics, Geology, and Geophysics. Universities are encouraged to demonstrate how they will assert leadership to implement the innovations proposed, address on-campus barriers to academic mobility and how they will commit to making concrete changes to expand access to study abroad. Up to eight grants of $25,000 each will be awarded in this round. Applications are due by July 28, 2014.
International exchanges build knowledge and relationships that reach across borders.
U.S. students, scholars, and teachers strengthen relationships and economic prosperity throughout the Western Hemisphere. International students and scholars enrich our U.S. campuses and foster long-term connections between our institutions. Presidents, Nobel Laureates, and Pulitzer Prize winners around the world are among those who have studied abroad. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff both participated in international exchanges to the United States. Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the youngest woman elected to the Arizona State Senate, spent a year in Mexico as a Fulbright recipient. International students, teachers, and researchers develop long-lasting relationships with their peers. These networks produce collaborative research and enhance our ability to address complex, cross-border issues and shared challenges.
International exchanges unleash the hemisphere’s extraordinary opportunity.
The impact of exchanges is impressive. Through study abroad, people build language, leadership, and adaptive skills, and gain cross-cultural understanding -- all necessary to lead in a globalized economy. This is especially true in the Americas, where innovation is taking off and entrepreneurs are looking for markets in a hemisphere inhabited by nearly 1 billion people. 100,000 Strong in the Americas is vital for our competitiveness as a region because it fosters our ability to connect, communicate, and collaborate across borders.
International exchanges are key to our bilateral relationships.
We are partnering with many governments throughout the Americas to meet the goals of 100,000 Strong. By fall 2014, the United States will have welcomed more than 25,000 Brazil Scientific Mobility Program students at more than 200 U.S. universities in 46 states. We have partnered with the Mexican government and private sector to bring 300 Mexican students to study at U.S. community colleges. The United States and Colombia have long partnered to promote English language training in Colombia and Spanish language teaching in the United States through exchanges. Across the Americas, foreign government and private sector contributions to the Fulbright program have almost quintupled over the past decade, creating a groundswell of support for 100,000 Strong. By working together, we include not only the best attributes of our colleges and universities, but also develop the skills that can lead to employment and increased competitiveness.
International exchanges create new jobs.
International exchanges also benefit our economy and contribute to shared prosperity. The more than 66,000 students who come to the United States annually from Latin America and the Caribbean, along with 27,000 from Canada, spend their exchange dollars on U.S. campuses and in U.S. communities. In fact, a recent study found that three U.S. jobs are created for every seven enrolled students by spending in higher education, accommodation, dining, and other extracurricular activity. The nearly 50,000 U.S. students who study abroad in the Western Hemisphere each year return home with new skills and experiences that make them more marketable employees. International exchanges expand our network of economic partners by forging people-to-people links in all sectors of the economy.
Through 100,000 Strong, we are preparing our next generation for the challenges of the 21st century, to increase competitiveness, and to help pave the way to economic prosperity. We encourage everyone to seek out international exchange opportunities – a strong, prosperous, and innovative hemisphere depends on it. And we encourage our partners to support this important initiative. By working and studying together, we are creating a future in which our societies can thrive together.
Evan Ryan is the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.