I am living proof of how study abroad can change your life. I came from Mexico to the United States as a Fulbright graduate student. That led to -- in addition to a master's degree -- falling in love, getting married, becoming a U.S. citizen, campaigning in the 2008 presidential election, and ultimately being chosen to lead public diplomacy for the Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Department of State.
Although most people realize that study abroad can change an individual's life, they often don't recognize how important international exchanges can be as a contribution to relations between our countries. Study abroad enhances our understanding of other cultures, provides an enlightening perspective on our home country, and builds partnerships that foster progress toward greater prosperity, economic equality, and sustainability. Recognizing the importance of international exchanges, President Obama launched 100,000 Strong in the Americas with the goal of bringing 100,000 Latin American and Caribbean students to the United States and sending 100,000 U.S. students to study in Latin America and the Caribbean annually. Supporting this bold educational exchange initiative is one of the U.S. government's highest priorities for the Western Hemisphere.
The Department of State recently hosted an education roundtable with local colleges, universities, educational associations, and nine U.S. Ambassadors serving in countries in the Western Hemisphere. The Ambassadors offered insights about the environment for educational exchanges in the countries where they serve, and explored ways they can work with the U.S. higher education community to achieve the 100,000 Strong in the Americas goal. The associations and schools offered to work with the Department of State and our Embassies to identify U.S. partners interested in exchanges with Latin America and the Caribbean. It was striking to see how many of our most senior Ambassadors in the region view promoting educational exchange as an essential part of building strong bilateral relations.
The 100,000 Strong initiative got another boost from a conference the Department of Commerce, Department of State, and Georgetown University recently sponsored. At the conference, some 500 government, business, and academic leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere came together to discuss the importance of improving and internationalizing our higher education systems to produce workers equipped with the knowledge and experience to compete in a global economy. Educational exchange is not just a nice thing to do; it's the absolutely necessary thing to do. In the words of a Brazilian businessman who was quoted at the conference, "I am not doing this (supporting education) because I am a nice guy. I am doing it, because if I don't, I will go bankrupt." That's how important it is to have a skilled, well-educated, and culturally savvy workforce in the 21st century.
At the conference, I had a great roundtable discussion with government and university officials from the Western Hemisphere about what we need to do to increase educational exchange among the countries in the region. I was able to share with our guests some updates on 100,000 Strong in the Americas. I was thrilled when Vice Minister Botero of Colombia said, “We welcome 100,000 Strong; it's like a ring to our finger.”
International exchanges are, without question, the best way to build lasting ties of international understanding and friendship, as well as to prepare for success in an increasingly interconnected global economy and workforce. As we work with our partners in the region to increase exchange opportunities, students interested in studying abroad should know that there are a lot of opportunities already out there. Check with your study abroad or international exchange office. If you are overseas, contact our EducationUSA advisers who work in hundreds of advising centers around the world.
Study abroad. It could change your life, and your country.