The White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship

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What a day!

On Tuesday, December 9, 2014 I had the great pleasure of attending the first ever Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship hosted by the White House. This was my first visit to Washington D.C. and what better reason to visit?

The White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Photo by Pete Souz via U.S. Government Works

Going overseas, be it to study, travel, work, or volunteer, is a topic that is near and dear to my heart; I think this blog is living proof of that. Travel for me has been transformative and that’s why I encourage young people to go abroad. Being away from home forced me to become a more confident person, it opened a window into different cultures, it made me more curious about the world, and it led me to my passion.

I didn’t get to study abroad during the my undergraduate studies. I desperately wanted to and I even went to an information session to learn about possibilities to do a semester in Germany, however, once I learned about the costs associated with the program, I quickly scrapped the idea. I had already taken out student loans to fund my studies and was also working part-time; the price tag was something I knew I couldn’t afford.

However, while I may not have had the opportunity to study abroad during my undergrad, I have certainly made up for that in recent years. Since graduation I have volunteered in Bolivia, worked as an English teacher in South Korea, lived in Thailand, and travelled to 35+ countries around the world.

I didn’t get to experience that semester abroad in Germany (though I have since visited numerous times!), but in a way, that missed opportunity only fuelled my hunger to want to SEE more, DO more, EXPERIENCE more!

Oh, and this spring I will finally be getting my study abroad experience when I complete my Bachelor of Education practicum in Peru! Better late than never.

White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship

Inside the Summit

During the afternoon session at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, we got to listen to numerous senior raking officials speak on the importance of studying abroad, and hear ideas from various panels represented by study abroad alumni, Peace Corps participants, travel writers, and more.

What shocked me were the stats.

When American students enter university, more than 50% are interested in pursuing studies overseas, however, fewer than 10% actually do. That’s a little discouraging.

Last year 289,000 US students studied abroad for credit. It may sound like a large number at first, but that only makes up 1.5% of the 20 million students across the country. That’s incredibly low.


I honestly think one of the biggest reasons students don’t go overseas is because they don’t have the finances to do so. That’s what I was contemplating in my mind when Chief of Staff Denis McDonough took the podium, so when he asked if anyone in the audience had any questions, my hand shot up before I even knew what I was doing.

My question for him was:

“What initiatives do you have in place for students who want to study overseas but can’t necessarily afford it?”

He answered that the White House is working to:

1) Bring down the cost of college tuition. This will involve creating a college rating system that makes it clear what the students are paying and what they are getting in return; the initiative will roll out in 2015.

2) Make student loans more affordable. There is bipartisan support on this issue and it’s something that they will continue to work on.

3) Make it easier for students to have access to grants. This is being done by expanding the number of Pell Grants available to students.

(You can get greater insight on the issue in the New York Times article: Obama’s Plan Aims to Lower Cost of College.)

Coming from Canada, I’ve always been flabbergasted by the cost of college tuition in the US, so this is something I truly hope to see happen.

Aside from that, it was also encouraging to hear that there are numerous scholarships for students to pursue studies abroad – AND these scholarships span from high school students to post-graduate students.

What scholarships are available for students to study abroad?

NSLI for Youth – Scholarship to Study Language Abroad (HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS) 

  • The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students and recent high school graduates to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs.
  • Scholarships are available for students to learn the following languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian and Turkish.

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program (UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS)

  • The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad. The international exchange is intended to better prepare U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.
  • It is open to U.S. citizen undergraduate students who are receiving the Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide.


  • The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is a fully-funded overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. The Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period, and later apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.
  • Languages offered include: Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, and Urdu (Levels: beginning, advanced beginning, intermediate and advanced); Arabic and Persian (Levels: advanced beginning, intermediate and advanced); Chinese, Japanese, and Russian (Levels: intermediate and advanced).

Fulbright Program (GRADUATE STUDENTS)

  • The Fulbright operates in more than 155 countries worldwide and has provided approximately 310,000 participants with the opportunity to study, teach, or conduct research in each others’ countries and exchange ideas. Approximately 8,000 competitive, merit-based grants are awarded annually in most academic disciplines and fields of study.
  • There Fulbright program has opportunities for both US citizens and non-US citizens.


Honestly, there are so many other programs to tell you about, but that would likely result in me rambling for another 2000 words, so instead, I would encourage you to visit and browse through the various program and scholarships available. While the site is heavily focused on opportunities for US citizens, there are also a few opportunities for foreign citizens to come and study in the US, so it’s worth checking out.

What other opportunities are there?

Minerva Schools

I got super excited about the Minerva Project because this is something that I absolutely would have loved as a student! Imagine if you could study in up to 7 cities over the course of your 4 year undergraduate degree? Now that sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

The Minerva Schools were established in 2012 to provide an extraordinary liberal arts and sciences education to the brightest and most motivated students in the world. The ideas is that after the first year of studies in San Francisco, you change locations each semester, allowing you to maximize immersion in different societies. You travel together with other international students in cohorts and live in residential locations on nearly every continent.

Some of their current destinations for overseas studies include: San Francisco, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Berlin, London, Cape Town, Mumbai, New York and Sydney. It doesn’t get any more international than that!

Stevens Initiative

The Stevens Initiative seeks to achieve the largest-ever increase in people-to-people educational exchanges between the U.S. and the broader Middle East. This is a virtual exchange through the use of technology and it allows students to connect, collaborate, and exchange ideas without actually having to leave home.

Changes to the Peace Corps!

The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the US Government that sends Americans abroad to work at the grassroots level. They have sent volunteers to over 140 countries around the world and offer opportunities in the following sectors: education, health, environment, community economic development, youth in development, and agriculture.

It was really exciting to hear that positive changes have been made to the Peace Corps program. For starters, the application process now only takes about 1 hour to complete, whereas before it was a whopping 8! Volunteers can now also specify WHERE they want to go and WHAT they want to do by browsing current openings. With that uncertainty of “where will I end up?”, I think it’ll be a lot easier for volunteers to commit to the 2 years.

Announcing the new Office for Study Abroad.

Another very exciting announcement was made at the summit, and that is that the White House will be launching a US Study Abroad Office!

There have been numerous pushes to make overseas studies a priority for students in recent years, and this sounds like another step in the right direction.

What are the benefits of going abroad?

It will force you to become a confident person. I was a very shy person growing up, in fact I still have to push myself to be social in a large setting, but I’m improving. The biggest push for me came when I moved to South Korea on my own. I didn’t know a soul and it was either going to be a very lonely year or I was going to get out of my shell and make friends. I forced myself to say ‘YES’ more often, and that completely changed my year.

You will learn new things about yourself. Like the fact that you can master a foreign alphabet, you can find your way using a subway map that looks like knotted ball of yarn, and you can stand in front of a class of students and teach. Going overseas will help you push your own boundaries.

You’ll meet people from all walks of life. You won’t always have a lot in common with everyone you meet, but what will bring you together is that little impulse of bravery that forced you to take the plunge and move to a country you knew nothing about.

It’ll inspire you to do good for others. Because travel is also about giving back to the people and the communities that invite you in.

You’ll become the person people want to hire. We talked about this a lot at the summit, and the truth is that if the job interview narrows it down to two candidates with the same qualifications, the one with the global experience is likely going to be the one that gets the job. Who would you hire, the guy who stayed home or the one who spent a year volunteering in Bhutan? I’d personally want to hear the stories from the guy in Bhutan!

It might give you the guidance you need in life. Let’s face it, your twenties are a confusing time – I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life when I first graduated university, however, going overseas can sometimes help you uncover new talents and discover new passions. There’s nothing like being on your own with your own thoughts to help you figure out who you are, what you value, and where you want to go in life.  It might be the little guidance you need to find your way in life.

It can lead to world peace. I know it sounds like a cheesy line you’d hear at a beauty pageant, but I truly believe that interacting with people from cultures different than our own leads to greater tolerance, understanding, and acceptance.

“When we study together and we learn together;

we work together and we prosper together.”

– President Barack Obama, May 3, 2013

Join the conversation

Have you studied abroad? Know someone who has? Why should students study abroad? Chime in and let your voice be heard. Click the ADD ME button to add yourself to the #StudyAbroadBecause mosaic.
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Did you study abroad? Do you wish you had?

Share your experiences in the comments below. 

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  1. says: Rebekah

    I studied abroad in Romania and loved it. It was the best part of college to me. I’m glad the US is encouraging people to study abroad because I do think its imperative for people to become global citizens- but I do wonder why the govt is focusing on this when colleges are SO unaffordable right now. Its insane how much debt we get. I’m was extremely blessed to have scholarships though school, and not being in debt allowed me to travel when I was finished. I often am jealous of countries that take gap years and I think Americans would if we didn’t finish school with several thousands in debt. I wish the government would make a REAL push to bring down college costs first before they worry about things like study abroad.

    1. says: Audrey

      Yeah, gap years are an unheard of phenomenon even here in Canada! It wasn’t until I started meeting Aussies and Brits that I realized it’s actually quite common for students to take a year off to travel, volunteer, and see the world.

      I agree with you that bringing tuition rates down really needs to be a major focus, however, going back to the scholarships, I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of opportunities, particularly for those who are looking to study less commonly taught languages. When it comes to study abroad programs, Western Europe tends to be a bit of a hot spot (and an expensive one at that!), but if you’re a student who is open to going somewhere a little less popular, like South Korea or India, there’s funding available because the language is in high demand. It’s worth considering…

  2. When I was in college (or university as we call it here in England) I was actually so naive and had no idea that studying abroad was even a thing. Looking back, I wish I had, because I would have had my eyes opened to the world a LOT sooner than I did. In reality, I didn’t get into travel until I was about 24. I think it’s such a good opportunity to study abroad if it’s available to you. Seeing the world opens your eyes, your mind, and inspires you (I think) to do amazing things. It must have been amazing to be able to talk to the people behind the new initiatives Audrey ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. says: Audrey

      But you eventually took the travel leap! Better late than never, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ The cool thing about meeting people at the summit is that even though everyone had a connection to travel, we all got into it at different stages in our lives and we all had a different story to share. It’s never too late for anyone to strap on the pack…or pack the suitcase.

  3. says: Miquel

    I couldn’t afford to study abroad either and luckily I fiund CBYX, a scholarship that made it possible for me to study abroad in Germany during high school. I’ve written a whole post about the program on my blog.

    I’m so happy to see the white house focusing on how important the study abroad experience is! It can change lives. It definitely changed mine and is the reason I’m now living in Thailand. O ya, and lower college tuition would be nice too!

    1. says: Audrey

      That’s wonderful that you found a scholarship to study in Germany while you were in high school. I honestly didn’t even known that was a possibility when I was in high school. We had a few programs to do an exchange in Quebec or France (French is the second language here in Canada), but there was no talk of other opportunities. P.S. I hope you’re enjoying Thailand! I miss it there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. says: Naomi

    I could not rave more about my study abroad experience and I’m so glad there was so many measures in place to facilitate it. Whilst my year abroad was obligatory because I did languages, at my university, just about every degree discipline was able to do a study abroad semester and as it’s such an amazing experience, it really should be pushed more!

    1. says: Audrey

      Sometimes it’s a good thing when going overseas is a mandatory component – it kind of pushes you to take the leap if you’re still on the fence. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m doing an education degree at the moment and because I’m focusing my studies on international schooling, I actually have to complete an overseas practicum. Pretty excited about that, especially since I didn’t get to go overseas during my undergrad.

  5. says: Karla

    I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad early in my 20’s.

    I won a language scholarship and headed to one of my favorite countries on earth, Italy!

    Not only it allowed me to meet fellow classmates from all over the world, but got to live like a local and fully immersed in the culture ๐Ÿ™‚

    I learned to be disciplined, outgoing, open-minded, determined and enjoy every moment of it.

    Leaving was one of the hardest things to do but I am very grateful I went because it prepared me to live and work in South Korea for a year.

    I definitely recommend going for a semester abroad. Not only will you have the time of your life, you will gain valuable and desirable skills no one else has to offer but you ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. says: Audrey

      That sounds like such an amazing experience, Karla! Congratulations on that scholarship – I’m sure you worked hard for it. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And that’s so cool that you ended up doing a year in South Korea. I taught in the Gyeonggi province a couple of years back and it was a really fun experience.

  6. says: Margo

    Thanks for posting such a thorough post on what this symposium was about. I did not study abroad, but lived abroad for several years many years ago.

    Having two daughters in college who are eligible to receive no public and little private grant money, one in private the other in out-of-state public, my first question was “how are we as a nation going to afford this?” The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve come to realize that when it comes to higher ed, this is an extremely complex issue. For several reasons, I’m not sure I totally agree with the college rating system they have been talking about implementing. But I’m at least glad that real discussions and steps are being taken in regards to accountability and to rein in the obscene rise in tuitions. As far as the colleges themselves, I’d like to see administrative cuts w/increases in salaries for adjuncts. I was horrified when I learned how many adjuncts are teaching at many colleges and universities and how little they are paid. Like I said – complex issue.

    And a lot of people don’t want to hear it, but much of these costs in the long run currently are being brought down on the vast majority of those of us who consider themselves somewhere in the middle class – parents and ultimately students, when we all have to pay back those all to easy to get loans, public and private. My concern is that my daughters, who don’t qualify for much public or private grant money to begin with, and whose parents are already strapped as a result of trying to avoid leaving them with high debt, will likely not be the ones who are eligible for need based aid for study abroad programs – which believe me, we are right now.

    On another subject, I’ve noticed that admissions offices at almost all colleges I have visited – public, private, out of state, all of them – take full advantage of the appeal of the concept of ‘study abroad’ when trying to attract students to their schools. In many areas (not just study abroad) there seems to be serious gap once a student is at a school between advising and students to make them aware of what is offered. Most colleges are administratively heavy organizations that are difficult to navigate. Students end up much more concerned about things like getting the classes they need for their major (because no one at the school seems to) than studying abroad.

    1. says: Audrey

      You bring up some very good points Margo. It kind of makes me wonder, where is all the money being spent? It’s a very complex issue, and even here in Canada where the tuition rates are a lot lower, we are still fighting to bring tuition fees down and make it easier for students to afford their studies. I always look to Germany who has free education for both domestic and international students… I hope we can get closer to that some day.

      1. says: Margo

        My understanding is that at many universities, the money (especially in regards to the inflating fees in the past 10 years) goes to graduate level research and administration. It’s probably easiest to do for a public university, but I encourage any parent or student doing a college search to ask about/seek out the documentation that documents exactly where undergraduate tuition money has been allocated for the previous years.

  7. Thanks for listing the benefits of studying abroad. The list will be useful for both teachers and students to begin their discussions taking them to even more activities leading them to total quality improvement. Your post is not only for Americans, but also for students all over the world.

    1. says: Audrey

      Thank you, Prasit! While the summit targeted U.S. students, studying abroad is something that’s important for students worldwide. It was also nice to see that there are scholarships available for international students looking to come to the U.S., so some of the information was still relevant in that regard. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. says: Stef

    Thanks for sharing your insights of the day. The stats really are incredible. I really thought more people of the US study abroad. But great that they have so many initiatives and I cross my fingers that there will be more people studying abroad in the future. I can only agree with your reasons to study abroad. I studied two semesters in England and I not only learned during the degree course but learned a lot about myself. It was one of the best years of my life and I would recommend anyone to go at least a semester abroad.

    1. says: Audrey

      That’s great that you got to study in the UK! I wholeheartedly agree with you – being overseas forces you to gain confidence and stand on your own two feet. I’m glad you had that opportunity.

  9. says: Justine

    I wanted to study abroad so badly when I was in college. And I am definitely one of those Americans who had every intention of studying abroad but didn’t end up doing it. For me, it was a combination of expense (studying abroad is crazily expensive) and managing my time and classes. I’m actually not surprised to hear that only 10% of American college students study abroad, especially considering only about 30% of us hold passports. Obviously I’m a huge fan of travel and student travel. Personally I think travel is such an important, educational experience and I would love to see more American students study abroad! It’s also nice to hear that the government is doing more to help with inflated tuition fees in the US. In California, UC tuition has skyrocketed in the past five or so years. It’s getting to be ridiculous and I’m not sure how anyone can afford to pay it, which is rather frightening!

    1. says: Audrey

      That’s a good point you raised about managing time and classes. I was surprised to learn that not all overseas programs provide university credit, which is another reason why some students choose not to go overseas. If you’re going to be spending time and money on a study abroad program, you really want it to count for something at the end.

  10. says: Sabine @ thetravellingchilli

    I had the chance to study abroad during my university studies with a scholarship. It was for 1 semester and when this semester was finished, I thought it was way too short. So after my studies I went abroad again and did another semester.
    It did help me a lot during my career. The multi-cultural experiences, the languages and self confidence you gain helped a lot. I must say, in Europe, there are a lot of possibilities and types of scholarships for students wanting to study abroad.
    I’m definitely pro. It makes such a big difference to a person wanting to work in a multi cultural environment.

    1. says: Audrey

      So true, a semester does go by fast. I didn’t get to go abroad during my undergrad, but I remember attending info sessions and one of the things we kept hearing over and over again was, “half a year goes by in a flash and you likely won’t be ready to leave by the end of it, so do a full year!”

  11. In college, I had the chance to study abroad three times (a summer in South Korea, a semester in Costa Rica, and another semester in Spain). I was a Spanish major and as my college’s Spanish program was highly craptastic, it really benefited me to actually study in those countries where the language was spoken since Spanish classes were often being canceled due to low enrollment at my home college. But they were all experiences I would give anything to have again and just such amazing memories almost a decade later!

    However, irregardless of the Spanish major, I definitely would have done so anyway. I think the reason why so many people don’t study abroad is that they don’t take the time to do the research and see what could actually work for them. I know that a lot of the “private outfitters” for study abroad programs are quite $$$ and this obviously can dissuade a lot of people from pursuing plans. But all three of the programs I went through were affiliated with my college so easy transfer of credits and more importantly, same tuition costs as on campus. For my program in Korea, all program participants were given a scholarship which covered three credits, your room and board, and all travel within the country (if your school is affiliated with Seoul Women’s University Bahrom International Program, look into it!). So long story short, a couple of weeks before any deadlines, visit your school’s international programs office and see what relationships they have with schools overseas-you will most likely be pleasantly surprised and realize these things can very easily happen but whatever you do, don’t procrastinate! As for the extra costs not covered-get a job and start working ๐Ÿ™‚ No one said travel is an entirely free game!

    What a neat experience for you to be a part of!

  12. says: Emma Knapp

    Sounds like you had an amazing experience at the White House!

    My story is very similar to yours, I had grand intentions of studying abroad (in Canada actually!) and had my application ready to go… before reality set in and I realised it was slightly too much for me to afford at that time!

    I’ve definitely been making up for it since graduation though, this past year I’ve travelled more than I could of dreamed! Travel has absolutely been transformative for me as well and I can’t wait to see what the next year of travel brings me!


  13. I studied abroad and loved every second of it – its been 8 years since I graduated and I still use the language skills that I learned during my time in France, and actually have an internship from that time on my resume (!) However, I would say that the cost of studying in Europe now, in addition to wildly escalating college tuition would be all too much. So, what about studying abroad in developing countries? China, India, maybe even a place like Albania (hidden and VERY inexpensive gem in Europe).

  14. says: Mary @ Green Global Travel

    Wow, interesting statistics on study abroad! It’s great to see the options and opportunities expanding since it seems financial barriers are the biggest thing. Thanks for sharing!

  15. says: Ann @ Pollyanna Lin

    I’m actually currently in the process of finding / applying to study abroad programs for Spring 2016!! There have been times where I have felt stressed out with the requirements for my major I have left and have considered not studying abroad, but I think I’m just going to go for it! (:

  16. I’m from the UK and had the chance to study abroad for a year, I spent 6 months in Spain and 6 months in Italy on the Erasmus programme, which is an incredible programme run by the EU. Not only did it not cost me anything extra, the EU actually paid me to do it (about โ‚ฌ400/month). There were 2 Americans studying abroad with me in Spain and they were spending an absolute fortune, as in $20,000 or something ridiculous like that for just one term, so I’m not surprised so few Americans venture abroad to study… Good on the White House for encouraging it, unfortunately over here in Europe there’s a stereotype of Americans as the antithesis of global citizens… great article and lucky you to attend such a summit.

  17. says: Emily

    I was like you in that I wanted to study abroad but the price tag turned me away from it. If I could do it over again I would go, even if I had to take longer to pay things off!

  18. Congratulations on being invited to the White House Audrey. Such an honour. Well done!
    I’m a British person so it’s much easier for us as travel is encouraged and Europe is closer. I did a year abroad as an undergraduate then after graduation I did my GAP year in Eastern Europe and went to live in the Czech Republic and Slovakia for 2 years. When I returned, I moved to London for a while (great times) then travelled around Asia before moving to Germany as an expat, and here I am!

  19. says: Glamourous Traveller

    I did a study abroad program whilst in college. It wasnt enough that my college in itself was a ‘study abroad’ since I went from my home country of Malaysia to study in Chicago, I was too hungry for more and did a study abroad in Paris as well.

    That semester abroad (and my entire four years of college) were incredible and instrumental in opening my eyes to different aspects of the world. It challenged you mostly about the things you are so accustomed to, and is different from just travelling abroad given the different levels of people you engage with.

    I was asked if Malaysia was next to China, and what being ‘Malay’ was all about. Talk about truly questioning your cultural existence!

  20. says: Corinne

    I have not studied abroad, but I do think it is valuable for any student. That is why I teach overseas. I teach American students and believe they have really expanded by living overseas. I’m so glad to hear the government stepping up and trying to make a difference.

  21. says: Heather

    Congratulations, Audrey! This must have been an amazing experience! The idea of Global Citizenship is so important and it’s nice to know the White House is making it a priority.

    I wanted to study abroad in college, but never did. I just got too wrapped up in my new friends and new life and didn’t want to miss anything. This, of course, was incredibly short sighted as I lost touch with most of my college friends the day after graduation. So I’m trying to make up for it now ๐Ÿ™‚

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