As President Obama addressed the American people last night, he highlighted how the United States will be turning the page from combat operations to soft power and public diplomacy in Iraq. He said, “What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.”
Expanding international education and exchange partnerships is one clear way to fulfill this promise, and it is already happening on campuses across the country as part of the Iraq Education Initiative. The Initiative is a program that aims to rebuild Iraq’s higher-education system by providing scholarships at foreign universities for students who will later return to Iraq and take part in the revitalization of the country.
Last June, NAFSA awarded its prestigious Cassandra Pyle Award for Leadership and Collaboration in International Educational Exchange to Dr. Zuhair A.G. Humadi, a high-ranking official in the Iraqi government and the driving force behind the Iraq Education Initiative. And now, as universities and colleges across the country are starting a new year, NAFSA members like Scott E. King at the University of Iowa are welcoming Iraqi students into their classrooms. Scott said,
For 30 years I have said that international education is a route towards peace; I’ve never believed this so much as I have since my involvement in this program…The Iraqi Education Initiative can bring Iraq out of years of isolation and make it truly a full member of the global community—what more can someone committed to international exchange ask for?
President Obama also addressed the economy last night when he said,
Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy.
International education has a role to play here too. Studying abroad is the best way to learn cross-cultural skills and foreign languages, while foreign students and scholars on American campuses enrich classrooms with global perspectives. It is imperative that we expand these opportunities in order give our college graduates’ the skills they need. One way to do this is through the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, a bill currently pending before Congress that aims to send 1 million American students abroad, while expanding the diversity of students and locations of study.
By preparing the next generation with the vital cross-cultural and global skills necessary to compete in our global economy, and through building partnerships and mutual understanding not only between the United States and Iraq, but among all nations, international education and exchange has a clear role to play in President Obama’s agenda as we turn the page into a new era.