Ramapo students attended NAFSA Advocacy Day this past Tuesday and Wednesday where they spoke to congressional representatives about the importance of study abroad.
The event took place in Washington, D.C. Participants from all over the country gathered to explore the fundamentals of advocacy, gain insights into the workings of a congressional office and learn about current political trends as they relate to NAFSA's legislative priorities.
"Because I don't have a background in politics I gained a [better] understanding of how things work in terms of bills and legislation," Nidle said.
The participants shared information with members of Congress about the impact of international education on their campus and local community.
NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, is the largest organization for international education. NAFSA urges Congress to ensure that significantly more American students graduate from college with global competencies necessary for success in today's global world. The organization also pushes Congress to create an immigration process that allows the U.S. to maximize the academic and economic benefits of international education.
Eight students from Ramapo participated in NAFSA Advocacy Day. Graduate assistant Dan Loughrey also joined the students on the trip and helped them prepare to meet with congressional representatives.
The two-day event began with briefings where Kari Lantos, director of grassroots outreach at NAFSA, shared her own international experience. She explained that traveling abroad opened up a whole new world to her and gave her the opportunity to learn a new language and culture. She added that it is important for students to have the same opportunity.
According to the 2012 Open Doors report, there were 15,155 international students in New Jersey. During that year, those students and their dependents contributed over $446 million annually. There were 764,495 international students and their dependents in total in the U.S., contributing nearly $22 billion annually to the economy.
Mark Farmer, associate director of government relations for NAFSA, spoke about the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program.
"Let's make study abroad the norm, not the exception," Farmer said.
This program would create challenge grants to provide incentives for colleges and universities to make study abroad an integral part of higher education. The program hopes to have one million U.S. college students study abroad annually for credit, create diversity of study abroad participants that reflects the U.S. undergraduate population in gender, ethnicity, income level and field of study, and have a significant proportion of study abroad educations occur in nontraditional destinations outside Western Europe by the year 2020.
Under the Simon program, higher education institutions could apply for federal grants, individually or in consortium, to help them institute programs that would move the country toward achievement of these objectives.
Students met with New Jersey legislative assistants of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez and Rep. Scott Garrett, Rush Holt and Rodney Frelinghuysen.
Senior Ashley Wood, a student aide at the Roukema Center for International Education, shared her study abroad experience in China in Lautenberg's office.
"Often times we don't think politicians care," said Wood, "but they really wanted to hear our stories. It made me feel like I was a participating citizen because I am voting towards something where my vote can count."
Senior Nicole Nidle also shared her information about her study abroad experience in South Korea. She mentioned that only two percent of college students study abroad.
NAFSA is also pushing for Congress to provide a plan that gives international students the option to work after they graduate from U.S. universities, including a direct path to green card status for sought-after graduates.
However, Wood voiced some fair questions and controversies revolving around the "common-sense immigration process" that NAFSA supports. She argued that often times international students don't want to stay in the U.S. and would rather finish their education in their home country.
"Plenty of problems that we face with democrats and republicans is that they can't agree," added Wood, "but one thing we can say is that study abroad is a good thing."