Under Secretary Sonenshine: Exchanges are beneficial for U.S. and countries worldwide

“This exchange business is good for us and the rest of the world,” Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) today.

Department of State exchange programs, including the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program, were featured prominently in Sonenshine’s remarks on “bottom line diplomacy” and why public diplomacy matters:

“If you happen to go down to Ocean City, Maryland, or Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, or many resort towns, you’ll run into young people working summer jobs and speaking English with accents from Belfast to Belgrade. They are here through one of the State Department’s cultural exchange programs known as Summer Work Travel. But they are actually part of a larger community – tens of thousands of students, teachers, researchers and business professionals – that comes to the United States at all times of the year to experience American culture.”

These international visitors, Sonenshine went on to explain, “are one example of … the major dividend that we, as a nation, get, from engaging with people around the world and the often overlooked impact on our society of having international citizens spend time in our country and our citizens going abroad.”

Pointing out that – as she is about to leave the U.S. Department of State – she wants to make Americans more aware of the State Department’s valuable work, Sonenshine highlighted the immense impact internationals students have in the U.S.:

“Take … the dividend that comes from the hundreds of thousands of international students who study each year on U.S. college campuses … Those nearly 765,000 foreign students contribute $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy, making higher education among our top service sector exports. Now that is not the only reason we bring students to America. There is a value much greater and much deeper than just financial.”

During the event’s Q&A session, Sonenshine stressed the need for metrics and measurements to show the (long-term) impact of international exchanges and noted that the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has been monitoring and evaluating its programs for 15 years, allowing them to compile longitudinal studies. She further expressed her wish for an alumni network for all of these programs, acknowledging that implementing and maintaining such a network would require additional budgetary resources.

Under Secretary Sonenshine’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are available here.