Today's global challenges demand international competence. Americans who study abroad in quality programs for academic credit; engage in service and experiential learning, internships, and research; and study foreign areas and languages are far better prepared for the demands of the twenty-first century.

Foreign Policy

With the image of the United States suffering around the world, communicating our foreign policies and building relationships with other nations has become increasingly difficult. Diplomatic efforts continue to be frustrated by the deficiency in global positive attitudes toward America, which average about 40% around the world, according to a February 2009 BBC world public opinion poll.1 A 2009 GAO report also listed the improvement of the U.S. image abroad as a top priority of issues requiring the urgent attention of President Obama and the 111th Congress.

International exchanges have often been cited as one of our strongest and most effective public diplomacy tools. International experiences  not only enhance understanding and cross-cultural sensitivity, but also give one a new perspective on one's own country. Those who have spent time studying and living abroad, who have developed an interest in a foreign country or region, who have friends there, and who speak their language, can and will be.

We need to ensure that our graduates step into the world with knowledge about and sensitivity to the rest of world. Studying abroad should be the rule rather than the exception in U.S. higher education. As we become a nation whose citizens are globally educated, we will become a nation whose root of knowledge and understanding enhances our contribution on the global stage.

National Security

Our leaders have stated time and time again the lack of language and cultural skills among our citizens to effectively serve our national interests, and that desperate search continues today.  According to an August 2007 U.S. GAO Report, almost a third of all State Department officers in language-designated positions overseas do not meet the necessary foreign language requirements, and that figure is even higher in the Middle East and Asia. The 2006 report issued by the Iraq Study Group also cited a severe handicap in lack of language and cultural understanding in the military and civilian efforts in Iraq, and yet in 2006-2007 the Middle East was a destination for only 1% of study abroad students.2

Nothing can better demonstrate the need for or importance of study abroad. Study abroad starts the learning process in a way that allows one to really see the world, hear the world, communicate with the world, and understand the world. These experiences afford students the cultural and linguistic education beyond what is available in U.S. classrooms. The most effective thing we can do, as a nation, to ensure that when tomorrow's crises arise we have the cultural and communication skills vital to our national security, is to have more American students living in and learning in the rest of the world.

Economic Security

Currently, one in five U.S. jobs is linked to international trade3, yet U.S. companies lose an estimated $2 billion a year to insufficient cross-cultural guidance for their employees in multicultural positions.4 The truth is, we don’t have the global know-how we need to advance in the world economy to our full potential. Today’s workforce requires a depth of international expertise and language skills lacking in most U.S. graduates. Students living and learning in countries and cultures other than their own learn important skills enabling them to acclimate in today's global workplace of constant change. Opportunities for study abroad facilitate a net gain of insightful cultural awareness, an affinity for the people and cultures in countries around the world, and the ability to hone essential foreign language skills through cultural immersion unavailable at home.

Resources on Study Abroad

NAFSA has collected a variety of materials that outline and analyze trends and statistics common in current study abroad programs.

NAFSA Reports

May 2016
Moving the Needle: Leveraging Innovation for Institutional Change in Study Abroad
In order to increase study abroad, a new national study abroad program primarily targeting higher education institutions rather than individual students was necessary. Three specific study abroad grant programs - 100,000 Strong in the Americas, US-China Student Exchange Leaders, and the Partnership for Innovation and Collaboration on Study Abroad - were examined and found to be an effective and efficient method of increasing study abroad.

November 2003
Securing America's Future: Global Education for a Global Age
A Blue Ribbon Task Force warns that Americans' lack of knowledge of the world represents a "national liability" in the war on terrorism, and lays out a blueprint for reducing barriers to study abroad.


June 12, 2008
Send more U.S. students abroad

By Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton
The 9/11 Commission Chairs endorse the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act and  make the argument that as a nation, we can't be competitive globally if our students lack global exposure and experience.

May/June 2006
Open Doors Secure Borders: Advantages of Education Abroad for Public Policy (477kb Icon PDF 16)
By Victor C. Johnson and Janice Mulholland
This article explores what study abroad means in the context of national interest and our nation’s ability to reach its short- and long-term goals.

Jan/Feb 2006
The Lincoln Commission and the Future of Study Abroad (172kb Icon PDF 16)
By Senator Richard J. Durbin
Senator Durbin talks about the legacy of the late Senator Paul Simon, whose vision inspired the creation and work of the Lincoln Commission, and the impact the commission’s recommendations will have on our nation.

Statistics and Resources

Other Reports

February 2006
Education for Global Leadership

(982kb Icon PDF 16)
Committee for Economic Development
This report outlines the state of U.S. global competence as well as what it means to be an educated American in a changing world.

November 2005
Global Competence and National Needs: One Million Americans Studying Abroad
Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program
The commission, based on the vision of the late Senator Paul Simon, outlines recommendations for a national undergraduate study abroad fellowship program to dramatically increase and diversify study abroad participation in the United States.

1 BBC World Service Poll
2 Institute of International Education, “Open Doors 2008,” November 2008.
3 Business Roundtable "Trade and American Jobs" February 2007
4 Committee for Economic Development "Education for Global Leadership," Feb. 2006.