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In order for today’s young people to succeed, they must develop the flexible qualities of character and mind necessary to handling the challenges that globalization poses. To become global citizens, they must learn how to communicate and interact with people around the world. Failing to teach them to embrace it for all it is worth will only condemn them to being left further behind since millions of others throughout the rest of the world will.

In order to give our young people the best opportunity to thrive in the new global world, we need to give them a global education. A global education provides learners with the opportunity and competencies to reflect and share their own point of view and role with a global, interconnected society, as well as to understand and discuss complex relationships of common social, ecological, political and economic issues, so as to develop new ways of thinking. Global learning should start at a young age, with the introduction of learning foreign languages and about other cultures throughout the K-12 curriculum. And it should extend to the expectation that all college students should be able to have an international experience during their college careers–either study abroad or an international internship, volunteer or experiential learning opportunity.

“Young Americans will depend on and most likely work in a world far beyond our borders,” said Dr. Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education. “Early exposure to different languages and cultures prepares young people for the constant transformation that will be required in their future careers. Acquiring the kind of intercultural communication skills that today’s employers value will offer them an economic, as well as intellectual advantage.”

In the words of a Committee for Economic Development Report, “Globalization is driving the demand for a U.S. workforce that possesses knowledge of other countries and cultures and is competent in languages other than English…Most of the growth potential for U.S. businesses lies in overseas markets [while] our own markets are facing greater competition from foreign-owned firms, many of which manufacture products on U.S. soil.” Goldman-Sachs predicts that by 2030, when today’s toddlers are slated to finish college, the four BRIC nations [Brazil, Russia, India, and China] will own more global gross domestic product (GDP) than the G7 [the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan]. The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends Report shows that China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy by that same year. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that by 2050, the E7 [China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey] will be more than 50% larger than the G7 countries when measured by GDP at market exchange rates.

Tomorrow’s college graduates are just as likely to compete for jobs in and with people from as far away as Beijing, and Bangalore, as they are from Boston or Boise. But the ability to work across cultures is no longer a nice-to-have skill set for elite executives or diplomats; every year it becomes more essential to finding any job at all. A machine operator at a plant in Wichita that exports aircraft parts to Brazil needs to know how to interact effectively when Brazilian customers visit. A nurse’s aide at a Houston hospital who serves a large Hispanic community has to deal with family members in ways that encourage, rather than discourage, patient compliance with doctor’s orders. A farmer in Western Pennsylvania can open up potentially rich new revenue streams by understanding exactly what qualities in wild-crafted American ginseng appeal most to the Korean market. The examples go on and on.

Unfortunately, not enough young Americans have the skills and aptitudes that global organizations feel they need. One HR executive quoted in a Randstad study called American students “strong technically” but “cross-culturally shortchanged” and “linguistically deprived.”

“Having the opportunity to learn about other countries at a young age–and even better, to prepare them to study abroad as part of their college education–opens students’ eyes to a new way of thinking about the world, instilling a more informed approach to problem-solving in cross-cultural contexts,” advised Goodman. “Today’s students need as much international exposure as they can get whether they wish to work in business, government, academia or in the not-for-profit sector. Currently, only about 10 percent of college graduates will have studied abroad by the time they graduate. It is our ambitious goal to double the number of students studying abroad by the end of the decade, in order to be better prepared to succeed in the global economy.”

Neither global education nor learning a second language is a component of the standard American school curriculum. Research on global education shows that it benefits general education by supporting critical thinking, especially in terms of encouraging a consideration of multiple perspectives, a skill identified in much research as supporting success across a range of academic disciplines and careers. According to the National Intelligence Council's (NIC) Global Trends Report, the reflective practices and consideration of varying perspectives that well-designed global education programs foster have been demonstrated to support analytical skills in all areas of education.

Global education should begin as early as possible and extend through college or university to include study abroad—study abroad that includes the proper preparation, intervention on the ground and reintegrating guidance once back on campus. Studying abroad takes global learning up a notch in that it requires students to get out of their comfort zones and experience another culture and education system firsthand. Studying abroad shouldn’t be considered as a tangential or separate part of the college education, but as an integral part of it.

The landscape of study abroad has changed significantly in recent years. With more flexible and accessible options, the barriers previously posed by disabilities, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and financial need are crumbling. Scholarships and financial aid make programs more affordable. Excellent, substantive programs and inspiring role models exist for every type of student in all academic fields, and it is important that parents and educators encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities. Study abroad and experiential education abroad should be seen as the capstone experience or culmination of a lifetime of global learning.

Clearly, those who are best prepared for the new realities of the job market are the ones most likely to first be hired, and then to succeed. And of course, more than any other kind of work, finding solutions to global problems requires the ability to forge solutions through international dialogue and collaboration. We need global education to develop global workers who will make a positive difference in the world.

Stacie Nevadomski Berdan is a seasoned global executive and award-winning author of four books on the intersection of globalization and careers. A Student Guide to Study Abroad was published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in 2013. Her work has appeared in leading newspapers and magazines, and she frequently speaks on college campuses.

This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's January/February 2014 print edition.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.