The world is more interdependent than ever before, and the challenges of the 21st Century, whether they pertain to the environment, the economy or our security, will require multilateral solutions. It is critical therefore that we provide the next generation with the skills they need to collaboratively address these challenges.
Exchange programs present one model for providing future leaders with the requisite critical thinking, cross-cultural communication and collaboration skills. The costs and logistical challenges of such programs, however, prevent this model from reaching all but a privileged few; less than two percent of American college students study abroad, for example. In addition, they build connections where they are least needed; the highest percentage of American students, for instance, go to Europe while the lowest go to the Middle East & North Africa. Finally, the trend in exchange programs today is to increasingly brief experiences with little to no assessment of impact.
For both greater peace and prosperity, it is critical that we provide vastly more young adults with the skills they need to participate in the global economy and, given the current economic climate, we must develop models that are less costly without sacrificing impact.
Exchange 2.0 is an important next step that aims to vastly expand the number of students who have profound cross-cultural experiences as part of their education, whether those are physical exchanges or virtual exchanges, and develop robust means of assessing the impact from these programs so best-practices can be identified and replicated.
In 2011, Soliya partnered with iEarn and Global Nomads Group to form the Exchange 2.0 Coalition. Programmatically, our focus has been on virtual exchange, which we define as technology-enabled, facilitated, and embedded in curricula with a cross-cultural educational purpose. Our Connect Program, along with other pioneering programs from iEarn and Global Nomads Group, serve as proof of concept for the potential of these models.
We are working with MIT’s Saxelab Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory to develop methodologies for assessing the impact of both virtual and physical exchange programs that can be easily applied.
Together, we believe that it is literally conceivable to make it the norm for students in the 21st Century to have a profound cross-cultural experience as part of their education, whether that is a physical exchange or a virtual exchange.