1.THE NOT-SO-OPEN “OPEN DOORS” REPORT:The new — and always useful — Institute of International Education (IIE) annual report on international students is out with findings that are not surprising given the pandemic.
Funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the latest Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange found that a “snapshot survey” last fall of 710 U.S. schools revealed a 16 percent decline in international students due to the pandemic. The comprehensive report, which surveyed more than 2,900 institutions, found “that for the fifth consecutive year the United States hosted more than one million international students (1,075,496) during the 2019/2020 academic year.” It said: “Despite a slight decline (1.8%) in the number of international students in the United States during the 2019/2020 academic year, this group still represents 5.5.% of all students in U.S. higher education. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019.”
China remained the largest supplier of students to the United States. During 2019/2020, more than 372,000 Chinese students were in the United States. According to the report, Chinese graduate students were up 3 percent and those pursuing Optional Practical Training were up 2 percent. India continued to be the second largest source of students, although the number declined 4 percent to 193,124. Due primarily to changes in its government’s scholarship program, Saudi Arabia showed the largest percentage decrease (-17%). The number of students from Bangladesh increased 7 percent, Brazil 4 percent, and Nigeria 3 percent.
As for Americans studying abroad for academic credit, the number during 2018/2019 was 347,099 — an encouraging 1.6 percent increase over the previous year. The most popular destination remains European countries, which account for 56 percent of all U.S. study abroad.
To learn more about Open Doors, visit: https://opendoorsdata.org/. For more about IIE’s Fall Snapshot Survey, visit: https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Fall-International-Enrollments-Snapshot-Reports. Next year’s report will be particularly important to watch as a critical baseline. It should help reflect the longer-term impact of the pandemic on the United States and foreign schools’ international student enrollments and the effects of recent changes in U.S. visa and other policies; the online teaching model; and specific bilateral relationships, particularly between the United States and China.
The new IIE report was issued during International Education Week, which was also marked by an unusually timely electronic symposium organized by the non-profit International Student House of D.C. (ISH-D.C.) The theme of its November 17, 2020 on-line event was “Prospectus on the Economics of International Education Exchange in Time of Global Challenge”.
According to the organizers, the discussion explored “how international education contributes to the U.S. economy not only through jobs directly related to international exchange but through the economic spillover effects for cities, states, the tourism and services industry, as well as the talent pool and innovation brought about by international exchange participants.” Speakers included big names like IIE’s president and CEO, Allan E. Goodman, and Meridian’s president and CEO, Stuart W. Holliday, but also a good mix of other non-governmental, educational, and business community reps who showed how exchange programs attract many stakeholders. Also, during the symposium “International Education Advocates Awards” were given to retiring Congresswoman Nita Lowey, House Appropriations Chair, and spouse Stephen Lowey, lawyer and chair emeritus of World Learning. Both are long-time supporters of education and exchange programs.
2. REVIVING, REFORMING, REBUILDING AND REIMAGING THE AILING FOREIGN SERVICE: It’s no secret — the Foreign Service is in trouble. Underfunded and understaffed, it suffers from poor leadership, low morale and lack of diversity. Recognizing these problems as a crisis, The Future of Diplomacy Project, a new Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center initiative, has issued an important report on how to make the vital Foreign Service less politicized and more professional, diverse, and agile. Titled A U.S. Diplomatic Service for the 21st Century, the non-partisan report is co-authored by three retired Foreign Service Officers: Ambassadors Nicholas Burns, Project chair and former Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Marc Grossman, Vice Chairman of the Cohen Group and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; and Marcie Ries, Senior Fellow and a senior advisor to the Foreign Service Institute.
The report, unfortunately, barely even mentions public diplomacy, but still its many detailed, Service-wide recommendations will interest the PD community and hopefully add to a national debate. It recommends, for example, that the name of the Service be changed to “United States Diplomatic Service”; the Foreign Service Act of 1980 be redrafted; the Service be increased by 15 percent, or 2,000 officers; the Service drastically increase diversity; and a flatter bureaucratic structure be embraced.
One of its more controversial recommendations is that the Biden Administration and Congress curb the practice of naming so many political supporters as ambassadors and senior officials in the Department. The report recommends that the new administration commit to appointing career professionals to 75 percent of assistant secretary positions and to 90 percent of all ambassadorial positions (up from an average of 70 percent in recent decades). Another controversial recommendation is that the traditional “cones” (political, economic, public diplomacy, consular and management) be abolished, and replaced by “multifunctional competence”.
For the full report, go to: https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/us-diplomatic-service-21st-century.
3. THE REAL STORY OF THANKSGIVING: Public diplomacy professionals know the value of “telling America’s story to the world” and the challenges of dealing with long-held myths, stereotypes and misconceptions. They generally strive to tell the truth about America as they go about explaining our complex, evolving society — “warts and all”. It was good to see that the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian used this year’s Thanksgiving to remind the country that America is more than a “nation of immigrants” — our Native peoples were here long before the first Europeans arrived. In a recent letter to the Museum’s many members and friends, Director Kevin Gover (Pawnee) reminded them of the need to confront “the cultural stereotypes and historical fiction we’ve been told for too long” and of the important role the Museum plays in bringing “the world a more comprehensive and truer story of America.”
Speaking about the age-old, idyllic Thanksgiving story, Gover said: “Most texts and classroom materials are, quite frankly, racist. They portray Native Americans at the historic first Thanksgiving as mere supporting players. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic, ‘Indians’ who share a meal with the bold and gallant Pilgrims.” He went on to explain that “the Indians in attendance were Wampanoag, a people with a sophisticated society who had occupied the region for thousands of years” and “had their own government, their own religious and philosophical beliefs, their own knowledge system, and their own culture.” He made the point that, “unlike the image of the first Thanksgiving as a friendly gathering of two diverse groups trying to understand each other’s culture, the assembly of these people had much more to do with political alliances and diplomacy.”
As they tell true stories, museums — like effective PD programs — promote understanding, confront stereotypes and celebrate diversity. For more information about Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, go to: www.AmericanIndian.si.edu. On December 17, 2020, the Museum will host an online conversation with Native youth about how Native people are “(re)telling the American story from Pocahontas and Jamestown to the first Thanksgiving and Plymouth.” For information about this distance learning opportunity, go to americanindian.si.edu/nk360/student-programs/distance-learning.
For an interesting article on how the pandemic and racial inequity issues this year led to a re-examination of Thanksgiving and “a cruel history”, see Brett Anderson’s November 17, 2020 New York Times article at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/dining/thanksgiving-native-americans.html.
4. STORIES DO MATTER: In trying to win over audiences, no one knows that better than public diplomacy professionals and The Walt Disney Company, which for almost a century has been influencing the world with its powerful media messages and storytelling. Therefore, a recent Disney policy change warrants attention from anyone interested in pop culture, media, and social justice issues and responsibility.
Recognizing that some of its content over the years has negatively depicted people or cultures, Disney announced that it would add an “advisory” to some of its titles before they appear on Disney+, its video-on-demand streaming service. Such Disney film library classics as Dumbo, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson, and Aristocats will all receive advisories because they contained offensive materials, such as racial stereotypes.
The advisory will say: “This program includes negative depictions and or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe To learn more about how stories have impacted society, visit www.disney.com/StoriesMatter.”
Before making its decision, Disney said it consulted with a third-party advisory council of organizations that advocate for the communities they represent and are driving narrative change in media and entertainment. The groups are the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA); Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE); and Define American, which advocates for immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.
5. DISNEY MAKES WISHES COME TRUE: The Walt Disney Company’s social responsibility commitment and legendary animation skills were clearly on display in a recent product with cross-cultural appeal and emotive, people-to-people impact. To mark the 40th anniversary of its support for Make-A-Wish, the U.S.-based non-profit, which grants life-changing wishes to children diagnosed with critical illnesses in more than 50 countries, Disney released a 3-minute, animated advert.
Titled From Our Family to Yours, the nostalgic, heart-warming video premiered November 9, 2020 on various Disney platforms and social media. It features Lola, a grandmother (“lola” is a sign of respect and means “grandmother” in Filipino), and her granddaughter sharing festive traditions, cross-generational family experiences and lifelong memories — and a vintage Mickey Mouse soft toy. The charming animated characters are of Filipino-origin, and the contents highlight the importance of the family in Philippine society and more universally. The video also rather subtly showcases Filipino culture. For example, parols — star-shaped holiday lanterns found in the Philippines every Christmas — are shown. The film’s catchy soundtrack was written by the Los Angeles-based songwriting/production team PARKWILD, and the theme song “Love Is a Compass” was performed by the UK-based singer Griff.
Although subject to a little negative media reaction in the Philippines but also much gratitude, the warm and fuzzy video — which is both a Christmas holiday ad for a charity and for the Disney brand and a Mickey Mouse toy — so impressed the U.S.-Philippine Society, based in Washington, D.C., that it highlighted the film in a recent message to its members. The Society’s longtime U.S. leadership includes retired diplomats like Ambassadors John Negroponte, John Maisto and Tom Hubbard and Hank Hendrickson, all foreign service officers who have been posted to the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
To view the new video, go to Wish.org/Disney. Since its 1980 founding, Make-A-Wish has granted some 500,000 wishes to children worldwide, and Disney has long been one of its most active corporate partners. Some of the proceeds from the sale of the Mickey Mouse toy are being donated to Make-A-Wish. Also, Disney is encouraging its fans to share their memories of family and holidays.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.