Sec. Stock: "Exchanges offer life-changing and world-changing experiences"

The Alliance was pleased to welcome Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State (R), to the Alliance Membership Meeting on November 8. Secretary Stock's full remarks are available below:


Remarks to Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange
Assistant Secretary Stock (R)
Embassy Row Hotel
Tuesday, November 8, 1:00 – 1:30 p.m.

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Good afternoon! And thank you for that kind introduction, Christine. I’m delighted to be with you again.

After I joined the State Department, one of my first meetings was with the Alliance. As I noted last year, we’ve hit the reset button and found ways to collaborate and improve the industry. Literally, without your help, our numerous international exchange programs would not be possible. I’d like to thank the Alliance Board and Executive Director Mike McCarry for their leadership. Please stand and be recognized.

Over the next two days, you’ll meet the new team at the State Department. Look for:

  • Ambassador Adam Ereli, who’s with us today. He’s the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs;
  • Meghann Curtis, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs;
  • Lee Satterfield, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Professional and Cultural Exchanges; and
  • Rick Ruth, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange.

By building people-to-people connections, we are advancing U.S. foreign policy. Today, I’ll touch on that. But I’d like to use most of our time to discuss the state of international exchanges, specifically the Summer Work Travel Exchange. Earlier this year, President Obama said, “Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security…These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us. They’re problems worth solving.”

More than ever, the United States’ relationship to foreign publics—not just foreign governments—is critical to our security. Today, anyone with an Internet connection or a mobile phone can become a reporter, a pundit, or a community leader. We must make sure that they have an honest understanding of America’s goals and values. Because in the 21st century, our national security is rooted in our collective

More and more, we have responded to the historic opportunities facing the United States by engaging with individuals, not just governments.
Educational and cultural exchanges foster people-to-people connections among an impressive range of audiences—not just elites. And we know what a powerful impact they can have.

As Secretary Clinton has said, “There is nothing that is more effective than having people break down barriers between themselves.” There is no substitute for living in a foreign country, communicating in another language, and understanding other cultures, institutions, and traditions. Simply put, people-to-people exchanges are, without question, the most effective tool we have for implementing smart power—the simple but commanding idea that we use every resource at our disposal to achieve our foreign policy goals. And when our students go abroad and engage with their peers, they also acquire critical language skills and enhance our nation’s global competitiveness. With the understanding that comes from firsthand knowledge, our alumni at every level become (we hope) lifelong allies.

They are:

  • More likely to become leaders in their fields and in their communities;
  • More willing to partner with us in business, politics, education, and the arts;
  • And, they are the reason that we have invested so much in our exchange programs over the past six decades.

With 60 percent of the world’s population under 30, it makes sense to build stronger relationships with younger, more diverse populations. We must remain committed to finding new ways to create, sustain, and strengthen these connections.

Across the globe, foreign governments view exchanges as vital parts of our bilateral relationships. In an increasingly interconnected world, people-to-people contacts mean that much. We all recognize that exchanges build a foundation of trust between our countries and our societies. Today, the Department’s exchange programs are a key component of our strategic dialogues, including those with Russia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and China. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a major bilateral agreement without that component.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • With India, we have tripled the size of the Fulbright-Nehru program;
  • Our universities host more Foreign Language Teaching Assistants from China than from anywhere else in the world; and
  • We’re injecting $15 million into academic exchanges with Indonesia in vital fields like science and technology.

People-to-people connections also strengthen our profile in frontline states like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Even if the relationship between governments is tense, our citizens can build mutual understanding and friendship. Since January, we’ve seen incredible changes spreading across the Middle East. As we support historic transitions in this region, we have the opportunity to introduce ourselves to a new generation of global leaders.

  • In Libya, Secretary Clinton announced both the reinstatement and the doubling of the Fulbright Program; and
  • In Tunisia, where youth have been vital change agents, we doubled the number of students in our Youth Exchange & Study (YES) program.

With your cooperation, we’ve created programs to advance our shared goals of
empowering youth and encouraging entrepreneurship.

They include:

  • TechWomen, a new, innovative program that brings women entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley for mentorships with key women leaders at top tech companies; and
  • Fulbright Public Policy Fellows, who will conduct research and work with host governments in Bangladesh, Tunisia, Nigeria, Haiti, and elsewhere. 

These programs make a difference. They give tangible substance to America’s efforts to build a more stable, prosperous, and peaceful world. As Alliance members, you see firsthand that international exchanges offer life-changing experiences. You also recognize that our practices must evolve with the nature of our work.

So, here’s the question of the day: how can we best do that, now and in the future? We all have a role to play. The reality is—demand for people-to-people exchanges is expanding. But the public funding to support them isn’t.

With the budget on everyone’s mind, we need strong public-private partnerships. They are the catalyst for bridging gaps and helping us face the challenges of the 21st century.

This means:

  • Doing things differently;
  • Using all the social tools we have—digital and interpersonal—to engage;
  • Increased cost-sharing with host governments; and, it means
  • Partnering with the private sector.

At the State Department, we are focused on doing all of these. We have to be. Take Tunisia. We met with youth there, who said they wanted to learn English. We developed mobile phone software to teach them. Today, six million subscribers are learning with mEnglish, thanks to our partnerships with Tunisia’s largest cell service provider and an NGO content developer. This is what the future of public diplomacy looks like. In the last few years, the Department and the Alliance have worked to improve our high school exchange programs. And next, together, we must tackle a new challenge: reforming the Summer Work Travel program.

Since its inception in the 1960s, over two million students have come to the United States on this program. And the vast majority have had positive experiences. Yet, there are still improvements we can make to better advance our goals and
participants’ experience. Summer Work Travel is now nearly 50 years old, and we’re concerned that the program has not changed enough with the times. Again, most participants have positive experiences. But one bad experience is one too many, both for the student, the program and diplomatic relatiosnhips.

We cannot allow that to happen. In implementing reforms, we need to focus on our participants’ positive cultural experiences. In recent years, we’ve tackled a number of issues, including job placement and working conditions. Since last year, we have collaborated with the Alliance to implement a pilot program and new regulations. Those reforms are just one part of a larger process. Secretary Clinton initiated an intensive program review that will address weaknesses and strengthen our monitoring capabilities. We are implementing this review now. Just yesterday, we announced in the Federal Register that the Department will cap the number of participants and private-sector sponsors, starting in 2012. We are working to ensure that Summer Work Travel best serves our international participants, their health, their safety, and their welfare.

We will also be looking at:

  1. How suitable employment is defined for an exchange visitor program. We already prohibit certain kinds of employment and will be taking a hard look at others;
  2. How students are provided with cultural experiences;
  3. The role of foreign recruiters; and,
  4. Increasing the number of compliance officers and visits to sponsors.

This is not just a Department-wide effort. We’re also working with Congress and other stakeholders to ensure that our reforms are the right ones. Tomorrow’s session with ECA and Consular Affairs is part of that process. The Alliance is an important part of this reform process; I thank you for that. And I’d also like to thank you in advance for your continued engagement on this issue in the months ahead. Whether it’s a long-established program or a new initiative, international exchanges are a cornerstone of our foreign relations, now and in the future.

Again, thank you for your commitment, your passion, and your willingness to make a difference. This is a defining moment for international exchanges, and I am confident that, together, we can find the right solutions. Thank you.