The case of Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese civil rights activist who made headlines when he escaped from abusive house arrest last month and sought solace in the U.S. Embassy, has brought the significance of study abroad and global connections to the spotlight. With substantial emphasis being placed on education abroad and globalization in universities across the nation, it is a wonder that the U.S. government seems to have trouble accepting immigrants.
With a clear increase of study abroad participants both in and outside the U.S., it is time to reconsider the issue of immigration and align it with the need for global knowledge.
Chen was offered an invitation to study at New York University, and the U.S. government has already granted visas for his family and him, though he awaits permission on the Chinese side. This opportunity will allow him to experience a new culture and way of life as well as to obtain a law degree and seek justice.
Studying abroad provides international experience that often makes students more aware, open-minded and willing to connect with people of different backgrounds. These perspectives are crucial to any career in an increasingly globalized world.
Chens situation is not a novelty with regard to struggling for a chance to obtain an education abroad. According to the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 723,277 international students studied at U.S. institutions during the 2010-11 academic year. Just 270,604 U.S. students studied abroad in a foreign country in the 2009-10 academic year, up from 260,327 the previous year.
Students face obstacles of substantial academic costs, yet the numbers have been steadily increasing especially for China, where the number of U.S. students studying has increased to 14,000 in 2009-10 from less than 3,000 a decade earlier. Clearly, there is a mutual interest, and all signs point to the increasing importance of education abroad.
This need for a worldly view has, however, not been reconciled politically, especially in terms of immigration. Laws like the Alabama immigration law that mandates employers to use E-Verify to check identification papers against federal databases, as well as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romneys proposition that illegal immigrants self-deport both speak of the continued issues.
As study abroad increases and students become more in touch with international affairs, immigration reform should speak to the increased global awareness of our countrys citizens. As of now, there is a discord with the education being pushed by our universities and the alienating immigration policies.
Zein Kattih is a junior majoring in cell and molecular biology.