Antony Blinken and education secretary Miguel Cardona crafted a joint letter last week calling on superintendents to encourage school districts to host students via the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Secondary School Student Program.
“American high school exchanges are a fundamental part of US public diplomacy efforts and some of the US government’s earliest grassroots exchanges [began] in significant numbers following the Second World War,” the letter stated.
Exchange visitor programs for high school students include the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, the Future Leaders Exchange and Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study.
Blinken and Cardona asserted that thousands of high school students from almost 60 countries apply for approximately 2,100 spaces each year. Additionally, over 20,000 students are sponsored to come to the US through the BridgeUSA program.
Referencing the 2021 Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education, the secretaries said the benefits of international education are “especially true at the high school level, where the presence of international students in our classrooms benefits American students and schools by promoting cultural curiosity, a global mindset, and mutual understanding”.
The PIE News previously spoke with former YES exchange student Ali Lafi, from the West Bank, who participated in a high school exchange program in Arizona. “After my exchange program, I have a whole new understanding of not only Palestinian life, but also of American life and life beyond US borders… I believe I have a well-rounded view of culture.”
After spending 28 years as a superintendent in four districts across the US, Sheldon Berman now holds a top leadership position at the American Association for School Administrators, the national association for school superintendents.
“As a superintendent, I observed the profound personal growth our students experienced through the hosting of international students in our schools, student exchange programs and international visits,” Berman told The PIE.
“Given that the worldwide interconnections of our social, economic, and political lives will inevitably deepen and expand in the years ahead, such developmental experiences are essential today for students to succeed tomorrow as citizens of the global environment.”
“Who can deny the need for our students and future leaders to have a deep understanding of world history and culture?”
In 2006, a group of superintendents in Massachusetts formed the Global Studies for the 21st Century task force to promote “international connections and understanding” for district leaders “with the purpose of serving as a catalyst for international student travel”.
“With all that is currently at play in global politics, who can deny the need for our students and future leaders to have a deep understanding of world history and culture, and appreciation of our interconnected world?” facilitator of the group, Anthony Bent, told The PIE.
A former longstanding superintendent himself, Bent now serves a leadership consultant for superintendents, administrative teams, and school committees in addition to his leadership in GS-21.
“It will be to our certain peril if we ‘pull the covers over our head’ and hope that everything will always be ok for our country,” he added.
GS-21 has sponsored six professional development tours for superintendents to several European countries, with the next planned for October 2023 to Helsinki and Tallinn.
“International exchanges allow for the expanding of one’s potential,” said GS-21 member Joseph Baeta, the superintendent in Norton, Massachusetts.
“From culture and creativity to gained knowledge and understanding, there is no other way to learn but from within. Our international exchanges have provided all involved the opportunity to better oneself and learn the ‘why and why not’ from another perspective.”