As published in The Sun News on July 24, 2016
Your recent story entitled “J-What? Foreign Students Work Their Way into Carolina Culture” seems intent on maligning a very important cultural exchange program despite the positive views of the participants quoted in the article and recent improvements to the program.
A number of the international students quoted said that they didn’t care so much about the money earned through the Summer Work Travel program. One wants to “travel and meet new people,” another to “be more independent,” and a third to experience the “American Dream.” These approaches are very similar to the rationale that drives most of the students who want to grow personally and professionally by coming to the United States and participating in SWT.
I was also impressed by the many people – from program sponsors to police – who are working to protect these students. That is not a surprise. Our members consider the health, safety, and welfare of international exchange students to be their first priority. The article begrudgingly reports on the success of these efforts in Myrtle Beach. The article also mentions in passing the very significant improvements that the Department of State and SWT sponsors have made over the past five years to the program, but then seeks to undermine that progress by quoting someone who essentially states that ‘just because a problem isn’t reported doesn’t mean it does not exist.’ Of course, that kind of blanket, evidence-free statement can be directed at just about anything.
The truth is that international students who participate in the SWT program overwhelmingly report that they are satisfied by their experience and have a much better appreciation for the United States. America benefits greatly, as well. Americans experience a range of different cultures, and the students provide a financial boost to local communities. Moreover, when they go back to their homeland, these students join millions of exchange participants who have deep emotional ties to and bonds of friendship in the United States.
Ultimately, by hosting international students who are seeking to learn about the United States, people in Myrtle Beach are increasing mutual understanding, strengthening our economy, and supporting our national security.