Putting Out the Welcome Mat

How Grassroots Diplomacy Can Help Counter the “Trump Effect”

By Jen E. Clarke, Executive Director of One To World

A recent New York Times article reports that 40% of U.S. colleges and universities have seen a decrease in their international applications — a result of the so-called “Trump Effect,” or “chilling effect,” within the international education community that followed the November presidential election and subsequent attempts by the current administration to turn inward and away from diplomatic engagement. Current and prospective students alike are asking whether it is safe to study in the U.S. The decrease in applications signals a much greater loss for America.

More than one million international students attended American colleges and universities last year, the highest number to date. They come to benefit from our renowned institutions of higher learning. In return, international students make important contributions to American society:

· Last year, they contributed $32.8 billion to the national economy and supported more than 400,000 jobs. In the New York Metro Area alone, 100,000 international students and visiting scholars contributed $3.2 billion and supported 37,591 jobs.

· The international student population enriches campus life and provides opportunities for American students to practice foreign language skills and develop their overall global competency, a trait that has become vital for success in the 21st-century economy.

· Most importantly, these international students and visiting scholars are citizen diplomats, unofficial ambassadors who come to learn what Americans are really like and share with us a glimpse into their own cultures.

International students are the future leaders of our world, and what they learn about America now will form the basis of their lifelong beliefs. We cannot afford to alienate them.

Each year, communities throughout the Northeast engage in grassroots diplomacy by sharing their Thanksgiving traditions with area international students.

At One To World, we work every day to create authentic and meaningful opportunities for international students to get outside of their campuses and into the community: students share a meal with a local family, provide a crucial international perspective at prestigious foreign affairs conferences, and participate in volunteer activities throughout the city that exemplify the American service tradition. By engendering this citizen diplomacy, we ensure that international students’ impressions of our country — and Americans’ understanding of the rest of the world — will not be limited to headlines and stereotypes. Without this effort we may see a spiral away from peace and toward increased global mistrust.

$32.8 billion is a lot to lose, but it is nothing compared to the diplomatic relations that are at stake if current attitudes and policies discourage students from other parts of the world from coming to the U.S.

It is possible to provide a counterbalance to fear and ignorance. Face-to-face opportunities to replace fear of others with respect and appreciation are present every day that an international student or scholar lives among us. We have a say in what happens next. We can open our minds to the commonalities we have with people from other nations and share American kindness and openness with these most welcome guests. By reaching out and making contact, we can change the future.

One To World is a New York-based international education nonprofit. To find out how you can welcome an international student into your community, visit our website or email us at info@one-to-world.org. One To World is proud to be the officially-designated Coordinator of Enrichment Programs for Fulbright scholars in the greater New York area.