My USA Today Editorial Promoting Study Abroad

Something I feel very strongly about is the value of students incorporating a little world travel into their university experience. That’s why I’ve been working as a spokesperson for NAFSA: Association of International Educators. As a kind of teacher myself, my personal interest in this is to support teachers in their work by offering my Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler and Travel as A Political Act books, and Rick Steves’ Europe DVDs, as tools to bring an international prospective into their classrooms. That’s why I’m selling these items to educators at for nearly cost. If you’re a teacher looking for good material, take a look!

We created a little buzz in the foreign study community last week with an editorial I wrote in USA Today. I thought you might find it interesting, so here it is:

Rick Steves: Study Abroad Is a Good Investment

Even in challenging economic times, making sure that study abroad is part of our college students’ education is a vital investment. If we want a new generation of leaders and innovators who can be effective in an ever more globalized world, sending our students overseas is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

I believe that our national security rests upon the foundation of a well-educated electorate with a broad and sophisticated worldview. Ninety-six percent of humanity lives outside our borders — and we risk being left in the dust if we don’t know how to effectively engage the world. It’s critical to deal smartly with the emerging economic and military powers of China and India, and we must better understand the intricacies of Islam. While Germany is increasingly going wind-powered, the Dutch are building up their dikes and Africa is fighting a growing desert, we need policies more insightful than “drill, baby, drill.”

Fear vs. understanding

There’s a lot of fear in our society today. Students who travel learn that fear is for people who don’t get out much. And they learn that the flip side of fear is understanding. Travelers learn to celebrate, rather than fear, the diversity on our planet. Learning in a different culture and place allows us to see our own challenges in sharp contrast, and with more clarity, as we observe smart people in other lands dealing with similar issues.

American college students understand the value of study abroad. Four out of every five first-year students aspire to study overseas. But at any given time, only about 2% of students are able to. Educators are particularly concerned that the lack of opportunity for students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds will cause a “global divide” between students who’ve benefited from a global education … and those who haven’t. And students for whom foreign travel is not easily affordable are the ones who benefit most from the experience. As a society, we can help enrich the education of our younger generation, and brighten their futures, by making this experience more accessible. The Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, currently being considered in Congress, would dedicate $80 million annually to incentivize study abroad, with the goal of encouraging a million American students from a wide range of backgrounds to study abroad each year.

No better time to invest

Is now the time to be devoting precious public funds to sending college kids overseas? Absolutely. Our world is one big, rapidly evolving marketplace. Employers crave graduates who are flexible, multilingual and comfortable in multicultural settings. Study abroad sharpens these skills and helps keep American workers competitive.

In spite of its financial turmoil, the European Union recently expanded its Erasmus Program, which helps students study abroad. That’s because the people of the EU understand that globalization is like the weather: Regardless of what you think about it, you have to live with it. And when it comes to stoking trade, building international partnerships and simply co-existing peacefully, Europe understands that study abroad is a smart investment.

Americans who want our next generation to be hands-on with the world — grappling constructively with international partners against daunting challenges that ignore political borders, working competitively in a globalized economy, and having enthusiasm rather than anxiety about other cultures and approaches to persistent problems — can get on board with the movement to help our students get a globalized education.

Encourage the young people in your lives to get a passport and see the world as a classroom. It’s good for America. And it’s fun.


11 Replies to “My USA Today Editorial Promoting Study Abroad”

  1. I can understand why this might have created controversy. It appears Steves is appealing to well-to-do parents of (perhaps) spoiled children and also trying to advance his own business interests. No surprise there. It’s the good old American way. What he says has some merit. But so does the Peace Corps.

  2. Thanks for speaking up for study abroad, Rick, but it’s obvious to those of us in higher education that you’ve just discovered a new way to capitalize on a younger market. You’re out of your league, so probably better stick to tourism and legalizing pot.

  3. Did we read the same article? have had 2 nephews study abroad & a niece currently doing so & they are from middle class families who feel that it is well worth the time & expense for their kids to study abroad. my nephews came back w/a whole different point of view (positive) & i have faith that my niece will do the same thing as she immerses herself in the culture of Spain in order to use her study of language to complement her line of work when she returns in May. We all need to find out more about other cultures, whether we explore our own diverse neighborhoods or travel abroad to experience them first hand. Keep stirring the pot Rick!

  4. We all see the world through the prism of our own beliefs and needs. If you have the money to send your children abroad for a semester or two, why not? If you don’t, perhaps your children will be grateful to get an education at someplace like University of North Carolina, recently ranked as the top value college in the U.S. If you can’t afford college at all for your kids, perhaps the loans they take out will educate them at big name universities (but may not get them jobs). It may be that they might be better off in technical school. Germany does this superbly and I had to bring these grads over here to do what our grads can’t. Many of us would love the chance to learn, even dally, in Europe or Australia or Canada. Indians do it here. Chinese do it here. I give them credit. On the other hand, Amanda Knox
    may have been judged not guilty in a Perugia court but she was sure over there for fun.

  5. I know I’d certainly like to do a Semester Abroad now that I’m back in school. The problem being that none of the places I’d like to go to do it, offer anything other than STEM courses.. I’m not going to go into all that debt and go all the way to Europe just to get a C in a math class that I can get a C in here..

  6. I think that Rick’s frequent use of the word “fear” to describe the feelings of people who haven’t traveled much, or at all, is the wrong word.
    Perhaps “ignorance” would better describe their state of mind.

  7. Before I ever traveled overseas I knew that: (1) Lenin didn’t overthrow the czar; (2) Austrian isn’t a language; and (3) America ended its occupation of Austria decades ago. Before June 2009 I knew that the Iranian people were disgusted with their government. There are some well-traveled people who aren’t aware of this. Ignorance isn’t limited to those who don’t travel. Some who travel don’t even know that few people change minds when they’re called ignorant or fearful.

  8. My reaction to most of the comments posted so far is the same as Chris’s “did we read the same article?” Rick did choose to use certain words/phrases that were perhaps a bit extreme, and I will say straight up front that he is much more liberal than I am, but overall, I think the point of the article is essential.

    We need more of our youth to actively participate in an experience where they interact directly with individuals from other countries and cultures. Yes, you can gain a lot of knowledge and “experience” from reading books such as “Harnessing the Wind” (now there is some great cultural education from a book), but we need our youth to travel – and not just our rich youth which was the point of Rick Steve’s article that a lot of people seemed to have missed.

    Get our inner city kids out of their neighborhoods. It sad to think about the fact that there are kids who live in Los Angeles that have never seen the ocean.

  9. Rick’s article was so timely! My daughter called me last night feeling a little overwhelmed. She is in her second week of her semester abroad in Hungary. I forwarded the article on to her. I am a true believer that at times learning and growing can be difficult, but in the end it is well worth the effort. Many universities have financial agreements to keep fees low for these programs. My daughter’s program cost $1600 over the normal semester fees. This included room, board, health insurance, and some excursion opportunities. As a single mom and teacher, I do not fall in the “well-to-do” category. My daughter works hard and receives a huge academic scholarship from her university. I would encourage any student interested in expanding their view of life to look into these opportunities. Thanks for the article, Rick!

  10. The point of the artical is that without more government subsidies for students studying abroad, we’ll be less competitive, less trade, and less peaceful coexistence. Isn’t that at attempt to scare people? I thought we are against fear.

  11. So much for touting the Dutch and their windmills, Rick. The Netherlands just announced that “the country can no longer afford large scale subsidies for expensive wind turbines that cannot produce electricity at economically competitive prices”. There is always an insinuation in reading these posts that Europe and the rest of the world does things so much better then the US. Maybe this fits with someone’s political slant but green technology only survives if heavily subsidized. Take away the subsidies and it fails. This is supposed to be touted as an alternative to natural gas and oil?

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