The Value of Student Exchanges to Developing Countries — and the U.S.

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Mary Adjepong, a doctoral student on a USAID-funded student exchange at Michigan State University, is working on solving the problem of stunting among children in Ghana. / Photo courtesy of Mary Adjepong

The Value of Student Exchanges to Developing Countries — and the U.S.

USAID’s student exchange programs prepare students to be leaders in their country’s development. But they also bring benefits to American students, faculty and communities. 

When students travel to another country to study as part of an exchange program, the benefits don’t just accrue to the individual student — communities across borders gain from the experience.

USAID funds student exchanges between institutions in developing countries and U.S. colleges and universities. The students who come to the U.S. gain knowledge and skills they can use back home, which in the long run can result in higher employment, enhanced productivity and a stronger economy in their home country.

The U.S. benefits from these exchanges, as they enhance intellectual debates with American students and help generate innovative ideas for tackling global issues. Financial benefits to U.S colleges, universities and local communities are also considerable: international students studying here contributed over $35.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Student exchanges also lead to a broader understanding of development issues — like containing Ebola and Zika; building a broader genetic base for food security; forecasting and notifying citizens of potential natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes; sharing new technologies; promoting democratic principles; and learning conflict resolution skills.

During federal fiscal year 2016, USAID provided critical training and exchanges for more than 3.3 million foreign nationals. The majority of them were trained within developing countries, though more than 73,000 were selected to receive strategic training in neighboring countries or in the U.S. Scholars who arrive in the U.S. come with a plan for putting their skills into action once back home in their own country.

Here are some examples:

In Ukraine, where there is limited or no access to transportation and infrastructure for people with disabilities, Natalia Osaulenko sought to ensure disabled children are able to integrate into society.

After participating in a USAID-funded program, Natalia opened the Rehabilitation Center for Children with Disabilities in Romny, the first to exist in a rural area of Ukraine.

Natalia Osaulenko, exchange student from Ukraine: “The main purpose of my time in America was to find modern rehabilitation methods for children with severe disabilities.” / USAID

Natalia Osaulenko, exchange student from Ukraine: “The main purpose of my time in America was to find modern rehabilitation methods for children with severe disabilities.” (USAID photo)

Natalia traveled to Detroit, Michigan, to participate in a USAID student exchange. “The main purpose of my time in America was to find modern rehabilitation methods for children with severe disabilities,” she said. Upon returning to Ukraine, “the first thing we did was introduce new teaching methods for children with disabilities who have severe speech problems.”

While in Michigan, Natalia visited Wing Lake School, which serves students in Oakland County who have severe cognitive impairment and severe multiple impairments. She also organized a bake sale with the Union of Ukrainian Women of America in Ann Arbor to raise funds to open a speech therapy school back in Ukraine.

“While in Detroit, Natalia made a positive and powerful impression on her professional colleagues in advocacy for people with disabilities,” said Marian Reich, executive director of the nonprofit organization Global Ties Detroit, a USAID partner.

Student exchange benefits: Eric Danquah takes a pigeon pea and white yam cropping system back to Ghana. (Photo courtesy of Eric Danquah)

In Ghana, small-scale farmers who grow white yams face two main challenges: higher production costs from having to stake the crops, and the need to search for new land after the crop strips the soil of nutrients. Eric Danquah, a Ghanaian doctoral student at Michigan State University’s Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, set out to solve these problems.

Eric, who benefits from a USAID program to develop agricultural scientists, is researching whether pigeon peas and white yams could be combined into a single and complementary cropping system. He discovered that, not only do pigeon peas help fertilize the soil, their stems are thick enough to serve as stakes for the yams. He recently traveled back to Ghana to plant crops in research fields, demonstrating potential benefits to local farmers, who are likely to adopt a successful cropping system.

Mary Adjepong, also from Ghana and pursuing a doctorate in human nutrition at Michigan State University, is working on problems of nutritional deficiencies and stunting in her home country.

She is studying the role of essential fatty acids on the growth and brain function of Ghanaian children and hopes to inform her country’s policy makers on stunting interventions. Once home, she also plans to mentor young women and encourage them to take science-related courses.

“These students are active on campus and in the community, where they bring a deeper level of understanding about different cultures to their colleagues and friends, professional organizations, houses of worship, shops, sporting activities, and many other areas,” said Anne Schneller, co-director of the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development program at Michigan State University.

“We often talk about the benefits the students gain from this experience, but benefits are definitely felt in the U.S.” — Anne Schneller

Venera Fusha, exchange student from Kosovo: “We want to encourage a shift in mindset, and we want to have people thinking about entrepreneurship.”

In Kosovo, Venera Fusha sees entrepreneurship as a viable career option for everyone at the University of Prishtina.

After participating in a leadership program through USAID and receiving an MBA in Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise from Colorado State University, she co-founded VentureUP at the University of Prishtina to help students become entrepreneurs.

Her time at Colorado State University was also beneficial to U.S. students.

“International students bring global points of view, cultural diversity and shared purpose to U.S. campuses,” said Mark Hallett, senior director of International Student and Scholar Services at Colorado State University.

“These connections with American students and faculty engender cooperation and progress on the transnational challenges facing the world — economic, environmental and international relations,” he said.

About the Author: Grace Lang serves as the Division Chief for Higher Education, Youth Workforce Development, and Training within the USAID Office of Education.

Editor's Note: This entry is orignnally appeared in USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in this Generation publication on Medium.com.