Dear Friends & Colleagues,
2020 has been a unique and challenging year for American Councils with some of our programs being postponed and others being reimagined virtually. I’m particularly heartened that the Trustees and staff have used these challenges as an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to creating a more equitable landscape for exchange programs. As a Trustee of the American Councils Board, I have witnessed the transformative power of international exchange programs firsthand. For this reason, I wanted to take a moment to ask you to join the effort for Giving Tuesday and the annual End-of-Year Giving Campaign to support our Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship Fund.
Like us, we know you are passionate about the importance of study abroad. My own experience working in international economic development has shown me that global connections have the power to provide long-term positive outcomes. In the United States only 10 percent of students study abroad. The numbers for economically disadvantaged students are even lower. American Councils’ Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship Fund is designed to provide access to students from under-resourced communities that would not otherwise have this opportunity due to economic and social barriers.
Since its inception in 2016, the Diversity and Inclusion Fund has provided scholarships for 73 deserving students, but we can do so much more, which is why my fellow Trustees and I have agreed to match dollar for dollar up $10,000 of the funds raised. With this End-of-Year match, we hope to raise at least $20,0000 for these scholarships that champion American Councils’ ideal that study abroad is something that should be available to everyone regardless of their background.
This ideal is illuminated when I read about the experiences of Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP) alumna Julia Hablak, who used her fall 2019 scholarship to study in Saint Peterburg: "Language-learning becomes secondary to the real point of the conversation, which is trading ideas, opinions, reasonings and learning more about the other person. . . I am not only thinking about the grammatical rules behind the language but also thinking about the deeper meaning of what people say and how it is tied to culture, history, and their own personal experiences.” Likewise, Taylor Jackson, who also studied with RLASP in Saint Petersburg in 2019, shows how important this opportunity was to her identity: "There are very few black women who are in or have been in the position that I am in right now, and owning my blackness is the key to taking advantage of my opportunities here and making the most of my experience in Saint Petersburg. I’ve had time to realize that my blackness is something that I should embrace and be proud of in every hemisphere."
For me, it is talented and deserving students like Julia and Taylor who provide fresh inclusive perspectives and inspire the future of global relationships. Though the pandemic has changed our tactics for study abroad, now is the time to go further in our pursuit to make these programs more equitable, otherwise it is likely they will become the purview of those with financial means alone.
We hope you will show your support for these important scholarships that connect their recipients to public diplomacy and a worldwide community of thinkers, entrepreneurs, and educators. As 2020 draws to a close with some relief and hope for the future, join American Councils as partners in this important mission. May your 2021 be filled with peace and good health.
Alicia S. Ritchie
American Councils Board of Trustees