Good public diplomats (like good teachers and good students) impart knowledge, listen, create dialogue, engage others by helping them tackle tough issues and are open to learning from the multitude of perspectives others present. They are imbued with an inclination to advance the education of all as well as their own. So what better way is there to exemplify the reach of public diplomacy than through educational exchanges?
Students can function as citizen diplomats exchanging valuable skills, sharing perspectives and collectively contribute to strengthening shared values between cultures. This year, nearly 100,000 Indian students are enrolled in American colleges (a number continuing to grow) but only 3,000 American students are studying abroad in India. The US and India clearly have much to gain by proliferating this form of public diplomacy. Though if they desire to have this system reach its full potential, there are some hurdles to be crossed. But first, let’s take a look at the bright side.
From the educational perspective, exchanges give students the opportunity to learn about international perceptions of domestic problems. When I studied abroad in India (summer 2009), Indian students were curious about President Obama’s stance on how to stave off recession and the international ramifications of potentially insular economic policy. Undoubtedly, studying abroad can promote critical and creative thinking for tackling current issues. Communicative exchange in a university setting also provides students with open forums for unbiased debates removed from external, possibly shortsighted, influences.
Looking beyond the educational benefits, exchanges also expose students to a kaleidoscope of cultures. They can investigate the subtleties and complexities of native societies and their respective customs firsthand.
As exciting as the prospects are for these programs, they still face some teething problems.India and the US have had their share of troubles in the past over educational exchanges. The US has been criticized for poor regulation of fraudulent colleges and consequent improper treatment of international students by immigration authorities. In addition, Indian students were criticized for not noticing the obvious red flags that may have indicated the universities as frauds. Due to limited seats and overqualified students, India is also dealing with overcrowding at their top universities. Many of those same students either go abroad or, if they can’t afford international travel, attend local colleges that are not able to truly foster their talent. All that said, fortunately, both countries are steadfast in their commitment to change these scenarios.
American authorities are working to investigate sham colleges and provide additional advisory support to Indian students seeking to study in the US. But it is a slow process. For instance, India is committed to investing in an Ivy League type system to attract a higher influx of US students. In addition, they hope to gain the attention of U.S. universities to motivate them to set up campuses in India. The new system will also benefit beleaguered Indian students unable to garner a seat in the ultra-competitive Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). Hopefully, it will also better the reputation of Indian higher education thereby encouraging students from abroad to study in India.
New partnerships with universities around the world are promoting further exchanges. In mid-October 2011, the US and India held an educational summit to encourage American students to study abroad in India and to highlight the importance of cooperative research. What’s unique about the India-US educational relationship is that it’s not just about creating an exchange or study abroad programs – it’s about working together to innovate. Point in case: The best and brightest are joining forces to reduce the costs of lifesaving devices,making healthcare more accessible. The possibilities for future collaborations are endless.
Students contribute to the public diplomacy efforts of both nations by building stronger alliances through open dialogue. Though problems exist, if both India and the US work to mitigate them, then both they and the world at large stand to greatly benefit from this form of public diplomacy.
This post was originally published in the CPD Blog.
Aparajitha Vadlamannati is current Master’s of Public Diplomacy student at USC, graduating in May 2012. She is also the President of the Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars and a senior editor on the Public Diplomacy Magazine board. Aparajitha is interested in studying US-India relations and Indian government public diplomacy. She hopes that participating in the India: Inside Out Project will contribute to her knowledge through primary research on both
By Aparajitha Vadlamannati