Please provide me with a brief summary of your business.
Mark: The Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange is the collective voice of the U.S.-based international exchange community. We're a nonprofit membership association representing 82 NGOs around the country, all of which are committed to providing life-changing international educational and cultural exchange experiences for their participants (both Americans going abroad and international participants coming to the U.S.). At the Alliance, we support the work of our members through a range of advocacy, policy, and information services.
Tell me about your role at the Alliance. What has been your career path so far?
Mark: The Alliance has a small staff, so my role as Assistant Director is varied and touches on all aspects of the services we provide to our members. I'm engaged in Congressional advocacy, both in DC and at the state and district levels; I work closely with the Department of State on the exchange programs we partner on; I speak at a variety of conferences on the policy climate surrounding exchanges; I help plan and execute a number of events for our members, including advocacy days and best practices workshops; and I help keep our members informed through our Policy Monitor.
We get to work with an array of fantastic people and organizations, so our days are always interesting. My career path is directly related to my own international experiences—first studying in France, then teaching in China. I got hooked on all things international during my undergrad years and when, after coming to DC for grad school, I found the international education and exchanges field, I knew that's where I wanted to be.
If you could study abroad, where would you go and why?
Mark: In some ways, I'd like to re-do my college study abroad experience in France—not just because I had such a great time and love that country, but also so I could make even more out of it. You know, do all of the things I know now and I wish I'd known then! If given the opportunity to have another study abroad experience, I'd learn Arabic. Maybe in Jordan or Egypt. That's a part of the world I've never been to and want to know more about.
What are some of the most important global issues that you believe every study abroad student should be aware of?
Mark: Advocacy is essential. That is important for everyone involved with global engagement and international education to know: every student who's been abroad, every study abroad or international education organization, anyone who cares about U.S. engagement with the world. While the number of Americans studying abroad continues to rise, it's still less than 10% of all enrolled American undergrads.
And while more and more policymakers are beginning to understand the necessity of global competence in all Americans, we still only spend 0.016% of the federal budget on international exchange programs. This will change only if we—the broad community in support of global engagement—raise our voices in support of international programs. And it's more important now than ever—not only as the stakes for engaging globally continue to rise, but also as political pressure to cut federal funding increases.
What aspect of Alliance do you believe your members find most useful?
Mark: The community. The ability to network, share best practices, collaborate, and innovate. The Alliance has grown significantly over the past decade—both in the number of members we have and in the services we provide. We've seen tangible and significant successes in improving programs and influencing policy through our combined efforts, and I think our members greatly value working together as a community.
Do you have some advice for how international educators can make a difference in Washington in the coming years?
Mark: Continue to lobby for increased global engagement. And not just lobbying your elected officials, though that is important. Lobbying of other potential influential supporters of international exchange in other key sectors.
What are the guiding principles of the Alliance-Exchange?
Mark: The guiding principles by which the Alliance operates were formed more than 20 years ago, when key leaders in the international education and exchanges field came together with the goal of creating a membership and policy association that could represent their collective interests in Washington. Simply put, the Alliance and our members believe that mutual understanding, international cooperation, economic prosperity, and the growth of knowledge that comes from international exchange programs are essential to activities in a global 21st century. We believe it is our responsibility to conduct exchange programs that embody the highest standards of quality, integrity, and safety, as well as to advocate for public policies that support the growth and well-being of international exchange programs and U.S. global engagement with the world.
Where is there room for improvement in the field of international exchange?
Mark: Some of the challenges we're looking to tackle include creating opportunities for more and more participants to have a significant international experience, no matter the constraints (financial, geographic, course of study at college/university, etc.), and increasing the number of policymakers and other influential people who we can call true champions of exchange and global engagement.
What are the best resources to stay abreast of international exchange trends?
Mark: I'm probably biased, but the Alliance Policy Monitor and Twitter feed are excellent resources! Following the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is a great way to stay on top of U.S. government international exchange activities. The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) provides excellent information on political developments as they relate to U.S. global engagement and foreign assistance as a whole. The ICEF Monitor is a useful resource for international education trends. Additionally, very useful publications for education and political trends include Congressional Quarterly (CQ), the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed. I also recommend following (Twitter is the most useful, I find) any organization that you're particularly interested in or passionate about!