President Obama in Turkey: "Exchanges can break down walls between us"

April 09, 2009

By Ursula Oaks

During his recent visit to Turkey, President Obama spoke repeatedly about the need to reinvigorate efforts to build ties of peace and partnership among the countries of the world. At a town hall-style meeting with university students in Istanbul earlier this week, he made it clear that he believes one of the most effective tools for doing this is international education.

Speaking about his commitment to renewed engagement between the United States and Turkey, and between America and the international community, the president emphasized three key points: the need for honest, open dialogue "grounded in respect;" a commitment to broadening opportunity to “those who have been left behind in this new global economy;" and the importance of encouraging young people to be internationally engaged. President Obama said:

I'd like to find new ways to connect young Americans to young people all around the world, by supporting opportunities to learn new languages, and serve and study, welcoming students from other countries to our shores. That's always been a critical part of how America engages the world. That's how my father, who was from Kenya, from Africa, came to the United States and eventually met my mother. It's how Robert College was founded so long ago here in Istanbul. Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed. We are reminded that we're joined together by our pursuit of a life that's productive and purposeful, and when that happens mistrust begins to fade and our smaller differences no longer overshadow the things that we share. And that's where progress begins.

Watch a video of the town hall and read the full transcript.

Over the past several weeks, it has been very encouraging to hear President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton speak frequently about the key role of international education and exchange in supporting a new era of American engagement in the world. NAFSA stands ready to work with the administration on a national strategy to fully harness the potential of international education. Our recent policy statement, Renewing America’s Global Leadership, sets out concrete steps for achieving a more globally connected America, prepared to exercise wise and constructive leadership in the international community, through international education.

Tell President Obama you share his belief in the power of international education and exchange. Take Action TODAY


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