Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cultural Understanding

  1. While living in London, England in 2004 I attended a stand up comedy show where one comedian did his version of the old joke -- "Americans invade countries so they can figure out where they are located on a map................." It never ceases to amaze me how completely ignorant of the outside world so many foreign nationals believe Americans to be -- due in party by the fact that only 10% of us have passports -- yet somehow our nation found a way to get to the moon, created the infrastructure for the Internet (thanks to Al Gore?), and gave the world Chicago style deep dish pizza.

    In an effort to extend our diplomatic efforts and extend our knowledge of the broader world USA Today editorialized (Mini-Ambassadors on November 23,2005) on the subject of "overseas education" to support the conclusions of a bipartisan congressional panel focused on international study for university students. This panel's final report calls on the US Congress to spend "$125 million by 2011 on scholarships for overseas education to reach the goal of 1 million study abroad students a year by 2017."

    This editorial included the following statistics of where American students choose to study overseas:

    Europe -- 61%
    Latin America -- 15%
    Asia -- 7%
    Australia-NZ -- 7%
    Middle East -- 1%
    Multiple Regions 9%

    I was fortunate enough to study in both England and Costa Rica while I was a student so I see the value in this proposed scholarship program. However, such a program has to be discussed beyond monetary terms (ideally this $125 million would be raised via private sector sources not via tax revenues -- for example the Pew Center's vast sums would be better spent on these scholarships versus the "promotion of greater state control" projects,, that they support today.

    Beyond the money issue regarding these scholarships let me raise a serious of related issues, concerns, suggestions:

    1.) Foreign Languages, Cultures, and Geography -- Scholarships are ideal for college students but what commitment will the USA make to foreign language training (plus culture and geography) in the K-12 system? My school system only offered French as a foreign language so perhaps expanded school choice and reformed teacher compensation systems are needed for recruiting the necessary teacher talent to prepare students for our "flat world".

    2.) Diplomacy -- USA Today's editorial included a statement saying, "about 190,000 undergraduates go overseas each year, acting as effective mini-ambassadors for the USA." Of course not everyone (especially me) is an ideal diplomat but let me cite one extreme example from my undergraduate studies in London, England. A fellow student from California announced one day in class, "yea, nuke everyone but California.........." I was never certain he actually knew where the State of Iowa was located based on the conversations we had over the year. The cliche applies here in terms of diplomats -- "you get what you pay for......"

    3.) Foreign Exchange Students -- I completely agree that sending an American student to study in India is clearly of educational and diplomatic value. However, I see another educational opportunity here in terms of inviting "foreign exchange students" from New York City and Los Angeles to spend a year at rural schools in Iowa as not only a way to educate Americans about their own country but also as an economic development/tourism project for the State of Iowa by exposing young, creative minds on the quality of life in Iowa.

    4.) Free Trade Agreements -- beyond the NAFTA agreement (with Canada and Mexico) our nation has a rather limited set of trade agreements with other nations. It is vital from my perspective to secure more free trade agreements because "trading nations are NOT warring nations" -- does anyone out there fear war will break out between Canada and the USA besides Michael Moore in the film, Canadian Bacon.

    Bilateral Trade Agreements
    Andean Free Trade Agreement
    Australia Free Trade Agreement
    Bahrain Free Trade Agreement
    Chile Free Trade Agreement
    Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement
    Israel Free Trade Agreement
    Jordan Free Trade Agreement
    Morocco Free Trade Agreement
    Oman Free Trade Agreement
    Panama Free Trade Agreement
    Singapore Free Trade Agreement
    Southern African Customs Union Free Trade Agreement

    Via my rough count of this list there are 24 nations that have bilateral/regional trade agreements with the USA yet there are nearly 190 member-nations in the United Nation's general assembly so our US Trade Representative still has nearly 170 more nations to reach agreements with to improve overall quality of life along with reductions in consumer prices.

    Study hard students,


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