Sonenshine: Egyptian turmoil creates loss of educational and cultural exchanges

A loss of cultural and educational exchanges is an often-overlooked consequence of the political turmoil in Egypt, writes Tara Sonenshine, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, in a recent Al-Ahram Weekly article.

Drawing on data from the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) 2012 Open Doors report, Sonenshine explains that the number of American study abroad students in Egypt has decreased over the past few years, while a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Doha and Saudi Arabia, have significantly increased their internationalization efforts, as well as both inbound and outbound student mobility:

“As a destination for American students, Egypt has been losing ground for almost three years. Between 2009/10 and 2010/11 the numbers of U.S. study abroad students going to Egypt fell 43 per cent from just under 2,000 to barely over 1,000. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been working to facilitate more scholarships for Egyptian students to come to America, but political and economic instability has stalled progress in both directions.”

Stressing the importance of study abroad and international exchanges for civil society and their lasting positive impact, Sonenshine further notes:

“Study abroad is a key pillar of building civil societies. People-to-people exchanges open windows onto the world for nations and citizens everywhere. Many great leaders and scholars point to their study abroad experiences as pivotal and life changing. Some 52 Nobel Prize winners in the world participated in State Department funded exchange programs at some point in their lives.

“By linking Americans together with people from across the world, lasting partnerships develop – partnerships that bridge political and cultural divides.”

In addition to these significant benefits, “student exchanges generate valuable sources of income for both sides of the exchange,” Sonenshine writes, adding that international students contributed more than $20 billion to the U.S. economy in the academic year 2011-12.