The United States Department of State should engage in grassroots diplomacy by sponsoring interactive international programs in higher educational institutions, known as Globalized Education.
This piece was co-written with Karim Eissawi, Mohammad Shamim, Ashish Mathew, and Carolina Martinez.
The United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has launched the Global Connections and Exchange program which uses technology and interactive projects to connect American secondary schools with international institutions in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and the West Bank. Other educational nonprofit organizations are involved in grassroots educational diplomacy initiatives.
Friendship Force engages in foreign exchanges with the goal of improving cultural awareness and diplomacy through a grassroots campaign. During the Cold War, they made exchanges between the USSR and the United States and today they are active in more than fifty countries, proving the success of international exchange programs as a tool of diplomacy. The Institute of International Education, active since 1919, is another nonprofit organization that engages in exchanges between the American civilian population and citizens abroad to improve global awareness and cultural sensitivity.
Promoting grassroots diplomacy through education could help break social and cultural barriers as well as improve the quality of American civil society by connecting it with civil societies abroad. Studies indicate that America’s image abroad has plummeted since 2002. This soft power diplomacy of international education is a cost effective approach. The average foreign exchange program costs $10,000 plus out-of-pocket expenses. If agencies such as the State Department or the Department of Defense sponsored an exchange program it would cost roughly $1 million to sponsor 100 students. This proposal acts not as an additional international education program, but as a means to develop public-private partnerships between non-profit organizations and the United States government, leading to enhanced cooperation between the two sectors and efficient work on crucial policy issues.
The State Department should work with Friendship Force International, the Institute of International Education, and the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network and provide funding to the City College of New York Study Abroad Program, enabling our faculty to devise a new leadership exchange program. This program would consist of exchanging a selective group of ten qualified students who demonstrate leadership capabilities from City College with ten students with similar qualifications in a participating university abroad. The exchange program would require students abroad to apply themselves in local community organizations and provide an entry point for them to get involved in the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Chapter of City College. This program would expose both groups of students to the issues faced by communities in the United States and abroad.