(HOST) With America’s image in sharp decline abroad, commentator John Fox was encouraged to see the Vermont House pass a resolution in its last session. He thinks it could help Vermont become a leader in meeting the critical need for global citizens in our post-nine-eleven world.
(FOX) The Vermont International Education Resolution encourages the inclusion of international education programs in the curriculum and extracurricular activities of Vermont’s colleges. It wisely recognizes that international students and their families contributed over $30 million to the state’s economy in 2005-2006 and that our economic future depends on our young people having the skill sets and mind sets to be active and responsible participants in a global economy.
Despite being a small, land-locked state, Vermont can lay claim to a long, proud tradition of connecting across nations and cultures. In 1961, when President Kennedy created the Peace Corps, he turned to his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver to be its first director and founding architect. Twenty-seven years earlier, in the summer of 1934, Shriver had traveled to Germany on a fledgling Vermont-based exchange program known as The Experiment in International Living. That summer changed Shriver’s life and, he would often say, inspired his model for the Peace Corps. "The Experiment," he reflected, "taught us that the way to find out about your own world is to discover somebody else’s."
As The Experiment celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, its mission has never been more important, and the need for Americans to engage globally never greater. As a recent study by the Pew Research Center starkly documented, America’s image abroad has hit an all-time low. Over the last five years the percentage of people with a favorable image of the United States has decreased 32% in Indonesia, 11% in Japan, 30% in Germany. Today, only half the citizens of Britain, our closest ally, express a favorable opinion of the United States.
This is profoundly troubling: America’s depleted reserve of good will compromises our safety and security, both abroad and at home. It undermines our ability to forge crucial partnerships to work on pressing global issues, like the spread of infectious diseases or climate change. It makes it harder to conduct business globally at a time when the opportunities have never been better. The list goes on, and one might well ask, as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman did recently, "Where is the diplomatic surge?"
It’s not likely to come anytime soon at the Federal level, but there is still much we can do to launch a diplomatic surge in our own communities. We can take inspiration from Vermont’s International Education Resolution and send more of our young people abroad as part of their high school and college experiences to gain a global perspective while putting a positive face on America. We can open our communities to immigrants and our homes and colleges to students from other countries so they can experience America’s promise first-hand. And with our new international friends we can do what people of good will do the world over to create a useful dialogue: sit, listen, and learn.
John Fox is an anthropologist and communications specialist at World Learning. He lives in Weston.