December 3, 2023

Antony Blinken and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona created a joint letter last week urging superintendents to encourage school districts to host students through the State Department’s high school student exchange program.

“US high school exchanges are a fundamental part of US public diplomacy efforts and some of the first local exchanges between the US government. [began] in significant numbers after World War II,” the letter said.

Exchange visitor programs for high school students include the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, the Future Leaders Exchange, and the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study.

Blinken and Cardona claimed that thousands of high school students from nearly 60 countries apply for about 2,100 spots each year. In addition, more than 20,000 students are sponsored to come to the US through the BridgeUSA program.

Referring to the 2021 Joint Statement on Principles for Promoting 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 fostering cultural curiosity, global thinking and mutual understanding”.

PIE News previously spoke with former ANO exchange student Ali Lafi from the West Bank, who participated in a high school exchange program in Arizona. “After the exchange program, I gained a whole new understanding not only of Palestinian life, but also of American life and life outside the U.S…. I believe I have a comprehensive view of culture.”

After spending 28 years as a superintendent in four districts across the US, Sheldon Berman now holds the top leadership position in the American Association of School Administrators, the national association of school superintendents.

“As superintendent, I have observed the profound personal growth our students have experienced through hosting international students in our schools, student exchange programs and international visits,” Berman told The PIE.

“As the global interconnectedness of our social, economic, and political lives inevitably deepens and expands in the coming years, such developmental experiences today are essential for tomorrow’s students to succeed as global citizens.”

“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 Massachusetts superintendents created the Global Studies for the 21st Century Task Force to promote “international connections and understanding” for district leaders “to serve 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 an appreciation of our interconnected world? The group’s facilitator, Anthony Bent, told The PIE.

A former longtime superintendent himself, Bent now serves as a senior consultant to superintendents, administrative teams and school committees in addition to his leadership at GS-21.

“We will be at our peril if we ‘pull the covers over our heads’ and hope that everything will always be okay for our country,” he added.

GS-21 has sponsored six professional development tours for superintendents to several European countries, with another planned for October 2023 to Helsinki and Tallinn.

“International exchanges allow you to expand your potential,” said GS-21 member Joseph Baeta, superintendent in Norton, Massachusetts.

“From culture and creativity to acquired knowledge and understanding, there is no other way to learn than from within. Our international exchanges gave everyone involved the opportunity to improve and learn the ‘whys and whys not’ from a different perspective.”

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