Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and State Department officials on Wednesday urged students in the United States to study abroad in an effort to better foreign relations and keep young Americans globally competitive.
Kennedy, speaking to a packed audience of students, faculty and college and high school administrators at Baruch College in Manhattan, said such cultural exchanges can indirectly aid national security efforts as well as help students grow personally and professionally.
“There are multiple layers in which the United States needs people to promote our interests, our values abroad. It’s really something that you are doing for your country as well as for yourself,” said Kennedy, an author and attorney who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013 to be U.S. ambassador to Japan.
About 300,000 U.S. students — only 1.5 percent of the 20 million enrolled in higher education — studied abroad in the 2013-14 academic year, according to State Department data. Some 15,000 of them participated in programs sponsored by the U.S. government, officials said.
Cost is cited most often as the reason American students don’t leave the country, State Department officials said. Kennedy stressed the importance of increased funding to help send low-income American students to other countries, and strongly advocated for more shorter-term trips — during winter recess and summer break, for example — to help mitigate the financial burden.
She also called for academic credit to transfer more easily between institutions and encouraged faculty-led trips and exchanges with partnering universities in other countries.
Evan Ryan, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, said the mission to raise the study abroad numbers is “an investment in our future.”
Last year, the State Department launched the Office for Study Abroad, which focuses on increasing the numbers and diversifying the areas to which American students go and their fields of study, she said.
“It is important that we both increase the number of U.S. students who study abroad and also ensure that those who participate in study abroad represent who we are as a nation,” Ryan said.
Long Island’s colleges and universities, too, are trying to get more students to study abroad for varying lengths of time but are mindful of student debt.
Linda Lubranski, coordinator of global studies and study abroad at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue said “leaving Long Island is also a barrier.”
“Students love their hometowns and that’s why they stayed here. Many haven’t lived away from home,” Lubranski said. “But that’s the biggest bonus for them too — that they can go to school locally and then also afford the opportunity to go abroad.”
The college’s faculty recently established an endowment fund to help defray the cost of studying abroad for students. The private college has an enrollment of 3,537 at the Patchogue campus, where the college’s first dorms are expected to open in fall 2017.
About 80 to 100 of St. Joseph’s students participate in study abroad programs annually, Lubranski said.
William Lucano, a junior majoring in communications at Adelphi University in Garden City, said his recent participation in a school-sponsored program was “life-altering.”
Lucano, 20, a commuter student from Garden City, said he had never been on a plane before he went on a faculty-led trip to Cuba during winter recess as part of a course he was taking. He was one of 11 undergraduates to go on the school’s first-ever trip to the island.
“You can study it all in a textbook, but when you’re in the country it is a whole different ball of wax. I was surprised by my own willingness to become ingrained in the life there,” he said. “It has totally sparked my interest in seeing the world.”