(photo by: sites.psu.edu)
I recently came across an article by Trina Y. Vargo on U.S. News called “The Wrong Pivot to Asia”. The article discusses how the Obamas were recently in China and have pledged to China that more American students will be studying abroad there than in Europe in the years to come. Here’s my thoughts:
First reaction: Great article- well written and very cohesive. It made me think of the topic of mandatory study abroad. Why do our college and government officials feel like they know what is best for students? Why does this administration continue to inflate numbers and statistics that are far from the truth? Why is the President and First Lady making this promise to China to increase the number of American study abroad students there? Is there some sort of deal going on behind the scenes between the US and China?
(Europe is not a priority for American study abroad students per US officials. Photo by: www.coolestplacestovisit.com)
2nd look: This author clearly points out how her study abroad in Canada positively impacted her career in foreign affairs. She started off doing foreign policy advising on Canada but then expanded her role to the far corners of the globe; studying abroad in Canada/ a Western country was an asset not a setback. Although I have discussed how many American students are attracted to Europe/ Western countries because it can appear to be more culturally similar to USA than China or Africa, I also think it is a bad idea to force students to study abroad in a country to which they are not attracted just because it is not Western. I also couldn’t help but notice that the President and First Lady did not say how they would increase the number of American students going to study abroad in China (shocking – in sarcastic tone); just that they would. But all criticism aside, on the surface I understand this move from deprioritizing Europe/Western countries for study abroad.
(Say goodbye to castles and hello to Pandas. Photo by: www.studyabroad101.com)
Last year, I advised an intern at my job to study abroad in China and to take Chinese as a foreign language, not pursue Spanish studies with a study abroad in Latin America. My rationale was probably very similar to the Obamas- China is where American business manufacturing is and if you want to succeed in business, you need to go to China. However, I now am having 2nd thoughts on the “wisdom” I bestowed on this unsuspecting intern. Can you imagine if someone told me I had to study abroad in China? I would have lost the opportunity to have discovered my French heritage and meet my family. But it’s not just that for many American students, studying abroad in Europe is a way to learn about their ancestry; it’s also about understanding our allies. All the European / Western nations are the United States’ allies. The author makes another great point that studying abroad in these countries is a great way to educate and prepare the diplomats of tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be odd if the American ambassador to France never studied abroad in France but in China? Now I’m sure their overall global experience would be useful but it would’ve been more useful if this person got to know French culture and language better by living amongst the French.
In conclusion: It feels wrong that our government is again stretching it’s dirty hands further into our private lives making it harder for American students to study abroad in Europe. Cutting scholarships / grants to study abroad in our Allies’ homes is not only a disadvantage to American students who are already given the short end of the stick for college with the ever growing cost of tuition, it’s also disrespectful to our Allies. By deprioritizing Europe for study abroad, the United States is giving the message that we don’t hold our relationship with them very high, that we’re moving on and possibly making new friends. I’m all for encouraging students to think outside of the Western box (especially since we are the not the majority of the world), but not at the expense of personal liberty, losing valuable allies in the long run, and further damaging the American reputation by making broken promises.
What do you think?