After nearly three years in Japan, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy is encouraging college students to live abroad, too.
On Aug. 31, Loyola hosted Kennedy and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan for a discussion on the importance of studying abroad.
Before the event, Kennedy and Ryan sat down for an exclusive interview with The PHOENIX.
Over the last two decades, the number of American students studying abroad has more than tripled, according to data from the 2015 Open Doors report. During the 2014-15 academic year, more than 300,000 students studied abroad, and last year more than 850 ungraduates studied overseas at Loyola alone.
Kennedy said not only does the study abroad experience enrich the lives of each student, but it also plays a vital role in U.S. international relations.
“I think the reason that more and more students are choosing this is they recognize this is a globalized world and none of the problems we are facing can be solved by any one country,” said Kennedy. “Every time you go abroad, you’re an ambassador for the United States and I think you represent our country aboard, but you bring back so much of the world here.”
The number of international students coming to study in the U.S. has also been increasing. Last year, almost 300,000 students came to study in the U.S. — a nearly sharp 9 percent increase from 2014. Ryan said the skills these students gain when studying in the U.S. — from understanding a different culture to learning a new language — are all beneficial in the increasingly globalized world, and the State Department doesn’t want U.S. students to fall behind.
“We don’t want to be at a disadvantage as the United States,” said Ryan. “We want to make sure that we too have a generation of students that have that global understanding and global perspective.”
Kennedy said the power study abroad programs have is exemplified through the U.S.’s relationship with Japan — which is now the country’s biggest partner in humanitarian efforts and scientific research.
“We were bitter enemies 70 years ago, and I think after the war there was a tremendous effort made to build a relationship out of that sacrifice and devastation,” she said. “Generations of … Japanese young people came to America and now they brought home what they learned here to Japan, which is now our strongest ally in Asia.”
However, more than half U.S. students studying abroad choose to stay in Europe, according to data from Open Doors reports from 2001 to 2015. The 2014-15 school year saw a record number of students studying abroad in Asia — more than 36,000 — but that only amounted to about 12 percent of the total students overseas.
Kennedy said she expects the programs in Asia will continue to grow throughout the next several years.
“Asia is really the place where there is the most opportunity for Americans. They are really still an indispensable country in that region,” Kennedy said. “There’s tremendous interest and opportunity for Americans, as well as for students for those countries that come here and make incredible contributions. So I think we’ll see those numbers start to evolve.”
However, some students and parents might be hesitant to study abroad. In 2015, there were almost 12,000 terrorists attacks in 92 different countries, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism 2015. In France, the fourth most visited country by U.S. college students, there were five separate attacks. But Ryan said fear of conflict should not keep students at home.
“The world is complicated, but when we do confront issues like that in our view it’s all the more important that we stay engaged and understand one another better through these experiences rather than retreat,” she said.