What foreign students learn here often stays here

Even if students return home, the positive impacts on the state of having many foreign students studying here are extensive and long term. We should do more to make those student years more valuable.

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The University of Washington

Even if students return home, the positive impacts on the state of having many foreign students studying here are extensive and long term. We should do more to make those student years more valuable.

The Seattle metropolitan area is one of the most internationalized in the United States. Our economy is tied to international commerce from planes to software to building design to coffee and to logistics. Our population is diverse with Bellevue almost 35 percent foreign-born. Our technology economy is based on attracting and retaining talented people. One of our greatest assets is the ability of our colleges and universities to attract talented international students.

This month the international meeting of colleges and universities, an organization called NAFSA, will hold its meeting in Vancouver BC. The conference will attract thousands of representatives. Its goal is to “prepare the next generation with vital cross-cultural and global skills" as well as to promote international understanding and a more peaceful world. A delegation representing our community and four-year colleges will attend to make connections. The group is called Study Washington.

The competition for talented international students is now fierce because of the attractive impacts on the local economy. The effect is both immediate and strategic for a region’s future. International students are a $350 million service export of Washington state: It is big business. Additionally, these students pay full tuition, thus subsidizing tuition for in-state students and helping to keep our colleges and universities afloat in these tough times. This immediate financial impact is only the tip of the value iceberg.

Our regional economy is unusually international, so it would be difficult for a college graduate to find a job in our area that does not include international business or does not have colleagues from different cultures. It is of immeasurable value to develop friendships and relations with a wide range of cultures during one's formal education. An organization called FIUTS at the University of Washington, Foundation for International Understanding through Students, assists the international students living in our community. They provide transition support, short-term home stays, community events, and cross-cultural leadership training designed to build bonds between local citizens and people from around the world.

It therefore is imperative that our local business and public leadership provide the resources that make the stay in our area  for these foreign students a successful experience. Consider that Melbourne, Australia's population is now 25 percent international students, and that city works to put out an excellent welcome mat.

In my work I travel the world, so I often meet international graduates of our local universities and see what their experience in our state means to them. Forty years ago a young man from the Arabian Gulf was a graduate of Bellevue College and Seattle University. Now he is CEO of one of the biggest construction companies in the world. On a visit to Seattle, he became interested in investing in Seattle property. In the early '90s, a Japanese representative of the advance team from the APEC secretariat told me he was advocating Seattle for the meeting. He quietly whispered to me, “I am a Husky.”  In 2010 at a reception in Seoul, a Korean businessman told me his company had opened their American presence in Bellevue because both he and his son went to the UW. This reception was attended by over 100 prominent Korean business and government leaders who were former UW and WSU students. The educational experience obviously develops relationships that build bridges overseas.

Not all international graduates return to their home country. Many become the talent that joins Microsoft, Boeing, and other companies. They bring the language and cultural skills that allow for international business or non-profit work. A degree in Global Health at UW may lead to a position at PATH or the Gates Foundation. A degree in computer science coupled with the language and cultural skills is invaluable to local companies.

When you weave all this together, a welcoming community is both good manners and good business. The building of these relationships can and should start in our public school system. A stronger focus on math and science is important to our economy and the prospect for employment. An understanding of the world beyond Bremerton is also important. The development of stronger international programs such as the John Stanford School and Bellevue International School, along with student and teacher exchanges, build understanding at a younger age. Our area has a number of organizations that facilitate student exchanges such as ACE, Associates in Cultural Exchange.

Over 95 percent of potential customers are outside the US. Exports are only 13 percent of our GNP compared to over 30 percent in Canada, China, and Germany. Less that 1 percent of America of American companies export. The time has come to take our strategic interests in global business more seriously. This examination will find that attracting talented people from around the world to be educated next to our local students will support our continued ability to be a center of trade and a region connected to the world.


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