Exchanges key to American national security, anti-ISIL efforts

Exchanges are a strategic imperative to current national security goals, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan. Assistant Secretary Ryan specifically referenced the importance of the State Department’s educational and cultural exchanges, English language learning, and cultural heritage preservation efforts as key to current anti-ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS) efforts. 

Her remarks were part of “The Impact of Public Diplomacy on National Security,” an event hosted by George Washington University on Thursday, February 19.

Assistant Secretary Ryan noted that one of the many ways exchanges counter violent extremism is by promoting American values, including democracy and freedom of speech and religion. She cited several examples from her meetings with exchange participants, noting that the nearly one million alumni from exchange programs are “an invaluable resource” for public diplomacy, as part of a “worldwide network of global citizens” that understands what the U.S. stands for, and can spread that message in their own communities.

These exchange programs are particularly important due to the age of the participants, who have the potential to influence their communities on a local and national level in the future.  Exchanges are an investment in future leaders, according to Ryan, who noted that 85 per cent of State Department exchange participants are less than 35 years old.

American national security benefits from exchanges in both directions – Americans going abroad as well as foreign participants coming to the U.S., Assistant Secretary Ryan emphasized. However, she noted that the U.S. currently “lags behind other countries in student mobility,” with less than 2 per cent of all American students studying abroad. To further the goal of increasing American student mobility, the State Department co-hosted a free, Virtual Study Abroad Fair for U.S. students, along with CollegeWeekLive and the Institute of International Education (IIE) on Wednesday, February 25. The inaugural event provided U.S. high school and university students with the opportunity “to learn more about the benefits of study abroad, program options, potential host countries, and funding opportunities.” 

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