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Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Published April 19, 2024

Bills boost going abroad

Living in Malta and Japan taught South Dakota native Brian Liesinger not only about different cultures, but also about himself.

“You learn a lot about yourself when you go into a situation that’s unfamiliar,” he said. “It’s a really valuable lesson.”

If two bills pass through Congress, more students could have a similar experience abroad.

In 10 years’ time, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007 would send one million American students abroad each year, according to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers: Association of International Educators Web site. The program would cost about $80 million.

In the 2004-2005 academic year, nearly 206,000 students went abroad, said Sharon Witherell, a public affairs representative for the Institute of International Education.

Less than 10 percent of graduates in the United States choose to study abroad during their college careers, according to the House of Representatives bill. Those who do go abroad often stay in European countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France.

The program would send American students to “nontraditional” locations, such as developing countries, the bills state. It would also develop a more diverse American presence abroad, including community college, minority, first-generation and low-income students.

But the main goal of the legislation is to increase American college students’ knowledge about the world and foster positive international relations, according to the bills. Not only would Americans be exposed to unfamiliar cultures, but residents of those countries would also learn about the United States.

“I very strongly believe that if you want a well-rounded education, part of that education should be done internationally,” said Liesinger, a nondegree seeking University student and communications coordinator for the Learning Abroad Center. “There are so many things you learn and experience that can’t be articulated.”

Liesinger studied abroad in Malta in 2002 and worked in Japan from 2003 to 2005.

University Learning Abroad Center Director Al Balkcum said the center is very supportive of the legislations.

“We would have liked to see more money provided and some sort of support provided for the awarding of scholarships,” he said. “But all in all it’s a good bill and a good start.”

The program will encourage students to travel abroad to nontraditional and developing countries, Balkcum said.

The House of Representatives bill passed through the Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously last Thursday. The same day, Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced a similar bill to the U.S. Senate.

Coleman’s office didn’t return calls Monday.

While introducing the bill to the Senate, Durbin quoted the late Sen. Paul Simon.

“A nation cannot drift into greatness. We must dream, and we must be willing to make small sacrifices to achieve those dreams,” he said. “This major national initiative can lift our vision and responsiveness to the rest of the world.”

Simon, who died in late 2003, wanted to provide Americans with means for learning more about the world beyond the United States’ borders, Durbin said.

Working with NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Simon proposed a national program that would provide grants and scholarships to American students eager to go abroad, while reforming current programs at colleges, said NAFSA spokeswoman Ursula Oaks.

“We found that although financial aid is important, it’s not by and large the primary factor in deciding to go abroad,” she said. “For example if you’re a pre-med student, you can’t take a semester off without setting yourself behind. The program would change nonfinancial factors like that.”

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