The White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship

What a day!

On Tuesday, December 9, 2014 I had the great pleasure of attending the first ever Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship hosted by the White House. This was my first visit to Washington D.C. and what better reason to visit?

Photo by Pete Souz via U.S. Government Works

Going overseas, be it to study, travel, work, or volunteer, is a topic that is near and dear to my heart; I think this blog is living proof of that. Travel for me has been transformative and that’s why I encourage young people to go abroad. Being away from home forced me to become a more confident person, it opened a window into different cultures, it made me more curious about the world, and it led me to my passion.

I didn’t get to study abroad during the my undergraduate studies. I desperately wanted to and I even went to an information session to learn about possibilities to do a semester in Germany, however, once I learned about the costs associated with the program, I quickly scrapped the idea. I had already taken out student loans to fund my studies and was also working part-time; the price tag was something I knew I couldn’t afford.

However, while I may not have had the opportunity to study abroad during my undergrad, I have certainly made up for that in recent years. Since graduation I have volunteered in Bolivia, worked as an English teacher in South Korea, lived in Thailand, and travelled to 35+ countries around the world.

I didn’t get to experience that semester abroad in Germany (though I have since visited numerous times!), but in a way, that missed opportunity only fuelled my hunger to want to SEE more, DO more, EXPERIENCE more!

Oh, and this spring I will finally be getting my study abroad experience when I complete my Bachelor of Education practicum in Peru! Better late than never.

Inside the Summit

During the afternoon session at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, we got to listen to numerous senior raking officials speak on the importance of studying abroad, and hear ideas from various panels represented by study abroad alumni, Peace Corps participants, travel writers, and more.

What shocked me were the stats.

When American students enter university, more than 50% are interested in pursuing studies overseas, however, fewer than 10% actually do. That’s a little discouraging.

Last year 289,000 US students studied abroad for credit. It may sound like a large number at first, but that only makes up 1.5% of the 20 million students across the country. That’s incredibly low.

I honestly think one of the biggest reasons students don’t go overseas is because they don’t have the finances to do so. That’s what I was contemplating in my mind when Chief of Staff Denis McDonough took the podium, so when he asked if anyone in the audience had any questions, my hand shot up before I even knew what I was doing.

My question for him was:

“What initiatives do you have in place for students who want to study overseas but can’t necessarily afford it?”

He answered that the White House is working to:

1) Bring down the cost of college tuition. This will involve creating a college rating system that makes it clear what the students are paying and what they are getting in return; the initiative will roll out in 2015.

2) Make student loans more affordable. There is bipartisan support on this issue and it’s something that they will continue to work on.

3) Make it easier for students to have access to grants. This is being done by expanding the number of Pell Grants available to students.

(You can get greater insight on the issue in the New York Times article: Obama’s Plan Aims to Lower Cost of College.)

Coming from Canada, I’ve always been flabbergasted by the cost of college tuition in the US, so this is something I truly hope to see happen.

Aside from that, it was also encouraging to hear that there are numerous scholarships for students to pursue studies abroad – AND these scholarships span from high school students to post-graduate students.

What scholarships are available for students to study abroad?

NSLI for Youth – Scholarship to Study Language Abroad (HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS) 

The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students and recent high school graduates to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs.Scholarships are available for students to learn the following languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian and Turkish.

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program (UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS)

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad. The international exchange is intended to better prepare U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.It is open to U.S. citizen undergraduate students who are receiving the Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide.


The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is a fully-funded overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. The Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period, and later apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.Languages offered include: Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, and Urdu (Levels: beginning, advanced beginning, intermediate and advanced); Arabic and Persian (Levels: advanced beginning, intermediate and advanced); Chinese, Japanese, and Russian (Levels: intermediate and advanced).

Fulbright Program (GRADUATE STUDENTS)

The Fulbright operates in more than 155 countries worldwide and has provided approximately 310,000 participants with the opportunity to study, teach, or conduct research in each others’ countries and exchange ideas. Approximately 8,000 competitive, merit-based grants are awarded annually in most academic disciplines and fields of study.There Fulbright program has opportunities for both US citizens and non-US citizens.

Honestly, there are so many other programs to tell you about, but that would likely result in me rambling for another 2000 words, so instead, I would encourage you to visit and browse through the various program and scholarships available. While the site is heavily focused on opportunities for US citizens, there are also a few opportunities for foreign citizens to come and study in the US, so it’s worth checking out.

What other opportunities are there?

Minerva Schools

I got super excited about the Minerva Project because this is something that I absolutely would have loved as a student! Imagine if you could study in up to 7 cities over the course of your 4 year undergraduate degree? Now that sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

The Minerva Schools were established in 2012 to provide an extraordinary liberal arts and sciences education to the brightest and most motivated students in the world. The ideas is that after the first year of studies in San Francisco, you change locations each semester, allowing you to maximize immersion in different societies. You travel together with other international students in cohorts and live in residential locations on nearly every continent.

Some of their current destinations for overseas studies include: San Francisco, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Berlin, London, Cape Town, Mumbai, New York and Sydney. It doesn’t get any more international than that!

Stevens Initiative

The Stevens Initiative seeks to achieve the largest-ever increase in people-to-people educational exchanges between the U.S. and the broader Middle East. This is a virtual exchange through the use of technology and it allows students to connect, collaborate, and exchange ideas without actually having to leave home.

Changes to the Peace Corps!

The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the US Government that sends Americans abroad to work at the grassroots level. They have sent volunteers to over 140 countries around the world and offer opportunities in the following sectors: education, health, environment, community economic development, youth in development, and agriculture.

It was really exciting to hear that positive changes have been made to the Peace Corps program. For starters, the application process now only takes about 1 hour to complete, whereas before it was a whopping 8! Volunteers can now also specify WHERE they want to go and WHAT they want to do by browsing current openings. With that uncertainty of “where will I end up?”, I think it’ll be a lot easier for volunteers to commit to the 2 years.

Announcing the new Office for Study Abroad.

Another very exciting announcement was made at the summit, and that is that the White House will be launching a US Study Abroad Office!

There have been numerous pushes to make overseas studies a priority for students in recent years, and this sounds like another step in the right direction.

What are the benefits of going abroad?

It will force you to become a confident person. I was a very shy person growing up, in fact I still have to push myself to be social in a large setting, but I’m improving. The biggest push for me came when I moved to South Korea on my own. I didn’t know a soul and it was either going to be a very lonely year or I was going to get out of my shell and make friends. I forced myself to say ‘YES’ more often, and that completely changed my year.

You will learn new things about yourself. Like the fact that you can master a foreign alphabet, you can find your way using a subway map that looks like knotted ball of yarn, and you can stand in front of a class of students and teach. Going overseas will help you push your own boundaries.

You’ll meet people from all walks of life. You won’t always have a lot in common with everyone you meet, but what will bring you together is that little impulse of bravery that forced you to take the plunge and move to a country you knew nothing about.

It’ll inspire you to do good for others. Because travel is also about giving back to the people and the communities that invite you in.

You’ll become the person people want to hire. We talked about this a lot at the summit, and the truth is that if the job interview narrows it down to two candidates with the same qualifications, the one with the global experience is likely going to be the one that gets the job. Who would you hire, the guy who stayed home or the one who spent a year volunteering in Bhutan? I’d personally want to hear the stories from the guy in Bhutan!

It might give you the guidance you need in life. Let’s face it, your twenties are a confusing time – I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life when I first graduated university, however, going overseas can sometimes help you uncover new talents and discover new passions. There’s nothing like being on your own with your own thoughts to help you figure out who you are, what you value, and where you want to go in life.  It might be the little guidance you need to find your way in life.

It can lead to world peace. I know it sounds like a cheesy line you’d hear at a beauty pageant, but I truly believe that interacting with people from cultures different than our own leads to greater tolerance, understanding, and acceptance.

“When we study together and we learn together;

we work together and we prosper together.”

– President Barack Obama, May 3, 2013

Join the conversation

Have you studied abroad? Know someone who has? Why should students study abroad? Chime in and let your voice be heard. Click the ADD ME button to add yourself to the #StudyAbroadBecause mosaic. Patent pending, Hyperactivate

Did you study abroad? Do you wish you had?

Share your experiences in the comments below.