Department of State news

The U.S. Department of State is commemorating this week the 30th anniversary of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program (CBYX) with Germany (see the Department’s press release). The Department is holding a commemorative event today that includes current American and German participants, as well as officials and program alumni who have made significant impacts in their communities.

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Safety concerns, such as the threat of crime and drug violence, are deterring American students from studying in Mexico, prompting them to choose Costa Rica, Argentina, and Brazil as their study destinations in Latin America instead, the Washington Post reports.

The Obama administration is planning to double the number of people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and Japan by 2020. President Obama announced this effort in a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Abe in Tokyo yesterday.

Said President Obama:

“I’m pleased that we continue to deepen the extraordinary ties between our people, especially our young people...”

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Rick Stengel, former managing editor of Time magazine, was sworn-in as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs yesterday. Stengel had been nominated for the post by President Obama last fall and was confirmed by the Senate in mid-February.

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The Fulbright Program is “a fundamental piece of America’s higher education infrastructure,” writes Jarrod Hayes in the Washington Post, providing “a critical opportunity for our collective braintrust to build the intellectual capital upon which our society relies”:

“The Fulbright scholars program is…central to everything colleges and universities do for our society. It supports faculty from all over the U.S.—red states, blue states, and states in between—to travel abroad in an effort to build connections with other societies and bring those connections and experiences home to their students and communities. It also brings the world into the classrooms of our children by funding the research and teaching of scholars from other societies visiting American colleges and universities.”

“In very many ways, the Fulbright program embodies the United States: an ambitious, diverse, globally connected program aimed at moving forward and at the forefront of taking on the difficult challenges that our societies and the world faces. And so preserving the Fulbright program is in a sense preserving who we are as Americans in the 21st century.”

A proposed $30 million cut to the Fulbright Program would “rob the United States of one of its greatest, most lasting, and cheapest diplomacy bargains,” writes Rebecca Schuman in a recent column for Slate:

“Sometimes the soft power of cultural and educational exchange is more effective than official diplomacy, because it involves…a demonstrated interest in the host culture, full cultural immersion, and actual personal connection with localsIt’s for this reason that now is the absolute wrong time to cut the Fulbright program.”

“As tensions escalate with countries that were once touchy allies, what we need are more Fulbright grantees in the world, not fewer.”

While the President’s proposed FY15 budget, released earlier this month, requests a 1.6 per cent increase (to $577.9 million) for all Department of State international exchange programs, it also includes a concerning 13 per cent cut for the Fulbright program, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Testifying on the Obama Administration’s FY15 budget request before Congress this week, Secretary of State John Kerry underlined the immense return on investment the American people are getting for their comparatively small investment in U.S. foreign policy, and specifically mentioned the positive impact of international exchanges.

Said Kerry in his testimony:

The U.S. Department of State released yesterday a Fact Sheet outlining the need for increased cooperation with Ukraine, including enhanced people-to-people exchanges. The report followed a meeting between new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and President Obama.

The fact sheet outlines a number of steps the U.S. will undertake to assist Ukraine including the $1 billion loan guarantee the government is working with Congress to provide.

The optional practical training program (OPT), which allows international graduates in the United States on student visas to gain work experience related to their fields of study, lacks sufficient risk assessment and governmental oversight, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

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