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Special: Congressional "Hearing on Safety in Study Abroad Programs"

Statement for the Record
Hearing on
Safety in Study Abroad
October 4, 2000

Submitted to the
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Committee on Education and the Workforce
United States House of Representatives
by Statement of David C. Larsen, Ph.D.
Vice President
Beaver College
Glenside, PA

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee.

Let me begin by explaining why study abroad is important to our students, our institutions and to the United States.

Globalization is superseding our traditional distinction between foreign and domestic concerns. Most domestic problems in today's world are also international, and conversely, most of the international challenges the world faces have very local manifestations. To cite just one arena: the global economic and technology revolutions are redefining the nation's economic security and reshaping business, life, and work. The opening of global markets, the explosion of trade, the globalizing effects of Internet

technology, and the need for U.S. business to compete in countries around the world require a global content in education in general, as well as specific foreign language and country expertise. There are similar global components to public health, the environment, international migration, and law enforcement that dominate our hometown newspaper headlines.

In short, international and cross-cultural awareness and understanding on the part of U.S. citizens are already crucial to effective U.S. leadership, competitiveness, prosperity, and national security in the next century, and will only become more critical in this new century.

Globalization expands the nation's need for international competence. To maintain U.S. security, well being, and global economic leadership, we need to increase the depth and variety of international expertise of Americans in government, business, education, the media, and other fields. While the Internet dramatically increases opportunities for global collaboration, technology alone cannot substitute for the expertise developed through serious study and substantive international experience. We cannot fully comprehend the challenges we face unless and until we have a sufficiently internationally skilled workforce. Study abroad is well-recognized as a key mechanism to provide that skill and sophistication.

Recent developments in this Congress, and in the Administration, as illustrative of this recognition. The House has passed the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000 [H.R. 4528], which establishes a needs-based scholarship program for undergraduate study abroad, as introduced by Reps. Benjamin A. Gilman and Maurice D. Hinchey. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has favorably reported out a companion bill introduced by Sens. Richard Lugar, Susan M. Collins, Russell D. Feingold, and Charles E. Schumer. The Administration has issued a presidential memorandum regarding international education that features study abroad as an avenue to achieve the objectives of the outlined policy. The Secretaries of Education and State are charged with executing this policy. A companion to that memorandum has been introduced in the House by Reps. Jim Kolbe, Johnny Isakson, James McGovern, James L. Oberstar, and Constance A. Morella [H.CON.RES. 342].

In September, Sen. Thad Cochran chaired two hearings on addressing the national security needs of the U.S. government for foreign language and cultural expertise, calling witnesses from the intelligence, foreign affairs, defense, and law enforcement agencies, as well as the private sector. Each of the witnessed outlined the special needs and requirements in our time that require foreign language sophistication, and two witnesses--one for a professional teachers association and the other with the Defense Department--highlighted study abroad as a mechanism to meet our growing needs for these skills.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators has joined with many other education and exchange organizations in endorsing these initiatives and special focuses. We all believe that international education—imparting effective global literacy to students and other citizens--is an integral part of their education. International education is important to meet key challenges facing the United States: national security and the management of global conflict, competitiveness in a global economy, and an increasingly multicultural society.

Study abroad is also recognized within the higher education community and by students and their parents as a key educational option that must be readily available. In contrast to its more exclusive treatment a generation ago, study abroad is now often a centerpiece in the educational options institutions offer and student choose from. The number of opportunities to study abroad that are available to today's students is large and increasing.

The number of Americans who study overseas for academic credit is also increasing: it topped 100,000 for the first time in 1997-98 and has increased by more than 20% during the two following years. This is a tribute to the efforts of international educators, and certain colleges and universities. These recent increases in the number of programs and in the number of participants are a clear indicator of the growing belief in the importance of study abroad on American campuses. Indeed, during the past five years many campuses have adopted targets for study abroad participation. If achieved, these will multiply the number of American participants in overseas programs fivefold. It also reflects, in my view, a growing demand by students to have access to these opportunities.

Notwithstanding the remarkable growth in study abroad in the past decade, study abroad participation by American students is still comparatively minuscule. Last year, less than one percent of our roughly 15 million enrolled undergraduates studied abroad and, as noted by the Institute of International Education's Open Doors, its annual survey of the study abroad population, many students still do not have access to study abroad programs.

If America is serious about wanting to work toward involving its future leaders in a significant international experience through study abroad during their college years, our nation still has a very long way to go.

Our nation is coming to the recognition that providing Americans with opportunities to acquire the skills, attitudes, and perceptions that allow them to be globally and cross-culturally competent is central to U.S. national security and economic interests in the 21st century and, accordingly, must promote the experiencing of the world first-hand by American students.

Along with the importance of increasing opportunities for study abroad and the challenges of serving a growing study abroad population comes the duty to do both of these things responsibly and to minimize risks to the students we are charged with educating. This challenge is not new, and I believe the study abroad community has long been cognizant of its special responsibilities regarding safety abroad. Certainly I have dealt with past individual events around the globe that have posed potential threats to

students abroad, or for which some response involving a student has been required because of a health problem or accident. These are not new issues; I have been addressing them at Beaver College and elsewhere for as long as I have been in this field.

What has happened in the recent past is a combination of the sustained growth of study abroad, the increase in the places around the globe that we are willing to send our students, and the public attention to several unfortunate tragedies abroad involving American students. More attention on study abroad program responsibility has consequently and rightfully been focused on these activities, and the professional has been obliged to articulate a set of guidelines so that practitioners, educational administrators, students, and parents have a common set of expectations about what is involved with study abroad, and what preparation is necessary to minimize risk. I am attaching those guidelines for the record and they are available to the public on NAFSA's website at I will also submit for the record an example of an article on this topic from the NAFSA Newsletter ("Safety in Study Abroad: How Much More Can Programs Do To Protect Students?"V.49, No.3; February/March 1998.) Beaver College’s link to the health and safety guidelines and its pre-departure information for students and parents can be accessed at