Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to formally launch a new effort today to encourage more U.S. students to study abroad in Latin America, and vice versa. The initiative comes with $1 million to help Latin American universities make that happen.
Roughly 45,000 U.S. students a year study in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Institute of International Education, and not many more from that region come here. The State Department wants to more than double that traffic by the year 2020.
"We are economic and political neighbors, and yet very few of our students study in each other’s country," says Peggy Blumenthal with the IIE.
In the global economy, she says, more workers need to be comfortable speaking Spanish, as well as understand how Latin Americans do business.
But she says many Latin American universities aren’t set up to accommodate students from the United States. The nonprofit Forum on Education Abroad helps other countries cater to U.S. students.
"It means making sure the curricula is to the standard that we require," says the group’s president Brian Whalen, "the students are well looked after in terms of their cultural orientation, health, safety and security issues, and so on."
There’s a payoff when students come here, too. According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, foreign students and their families contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy last year.