There is clear consensus: More Americans should study abroad.
50% of students go into college with expectations of studying abroad. Fewer than 10% actually do it. There’s a big disconnect in those numbers.
I’m 100% in agreement more of America’s youth should study abroad, and travel in general.
From my perspective, it’s really simple. Those who experience other cultures firsthand rather than through the mass media contribute more to the world than those who don’t. I’ve written about this already, so I won’t restate the obvious.
The real question:
What is the strategy that will maximize the chance of additional study abroad (& travel) opportunities?
This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a long, long time…and have already committed a lot of my own personal time and money to solve. As I wrote on Tnooz in 2013:
how do we truly inspire more people to actually travel — my major entrepreneurial goal — right now?
In my mind, the most authentic way is to increase the pool of people potential travelers have to converse with, and facilitate the trip discussions in a broader group that includes looser connections, while still remaining inside a trusted and secure environment (which email, phone, and text are).
The government’s solution?
Launch a U.S. Study Abroad Office under the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (overseen by State Department). Sure, this may help. But, I assure you, a formal “office” will not make more students venture overseas. Students need to speak with more past students who have studied abroad. They need to hear the stories first hand. Multiple conversations have to happen over weeks or months, in person. Few students will go on their own. Their friends need to be convinced, so they can feel safe they aren’t the only ones venturing outside the confines of the US. We need a larger community of people who believe in the power of travel.
It’s my firm belief community is the only thing that changes people’s behavior, in any aspect of life. I happen to believe hospitality exchange is one of best forms of community building in existence (because staying in someone’s home forms the most intimate possible relationship in the shortest amount of time without sleeping with someone). The largest obstacles to traveling are, time, money, and lack of friends to go & spend time with (community). It’s no secret having a friendly face wherever you go is the holy grail of travel. Hospitality exchange delivers that, while addressing cost in a massive way.
This is not an either or scenario. There can, should, and will be multiple strategies to grow the pool of students who study abroad. But all of them come back to building community.
Horizon is just one tool in the quiver. Of course, it goes without saying I think it’s a pretty damn good one.