High unemployment and the high cost of education at home are driving U.S. workers and students overseas in unprecedented numbers in search of jobs and educational opportunities. The U.S. State Department estimates that 6.4 million Americans are studying or working abroad, the highest number on record. A December 2011 Washington Times article quotes a survey by marketing consultants America Wave as saying that the percentage of Americans aged 25 to 34 actively planning to relocate outside the U.S. had quintupled in just two years, from less than 1 percent to 5.1 percent.
“Because of the funding and the capitalization that’s required for higher education, what you’re seeing now is that Americans are looking at alternative higher education in colleges and universities and some of them are overseas,” says Kevin L. Antoine, chief diversity officer at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Study abroad is a good way to ease into a career overseas, especially in emerging markets where the demand for nation-building skills is high. United States employers say job seekers who studied, interned or volunteered abroad have an advantage over those without such experience because of the global perspective they bring to the job. For multinational companies, they are prime candidates for overseas positions.
According to the Institute of International Education, not only are more American students studying abroad, but more are opting to do so in such markets instead of the traditional destinations in Europe — Britain, Italy, Spain and France. “There has been a surge of interest in study in China in the past decade, with nearly 14,000 students studying in China in 2009/10 compared to fewer than 3,000 in 1999/00,” the institute said in its “Open Doors 2011” report on study abroad by Americans. “Fifteen of the top twenty-five destinations were outside of Western Europe and nineteen were countries where English is not a primary language. There was a 44 percent increase in U.S. students going to India. Israel, Brazil and New Zealand also showed large percentage gains. Substantial increases were reported in U.S. students going to Egypt.”
Other popular education destinations were Argentina, Costa Rica and South Africa, up nearly 15 percent each in the period. Overall, the report said, Americans electing to study in Africa increased by 18 percent, in Asia by 17 percent, and in Latin America by 11 percent. The institute publishes the Open Doors report annually in partnership with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Recognizing the value of international experience, in March 2011 President Obama launched the 100,000 Strong Initiative to send 100,000 U.S. students to study in Latin America and the Caribbean each year, and bring the same number of Latin American and Caribbean students to the United States. The administration is recruiting students from diverse institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, Native American Tribal colleges, and community colleges, for the program.
Companies looking to launch or enhance their footprint in targeted markets are also recruiting among diverse communities. At General Electric Co., the African American Forum, an affinity network for the company’s African-American workers, is spearheading a “Back to Africa” campaign aimed particularly at African professionals living in the United States. “Developing a sustainable pipeline of high performing talent is critical for GE’s success in Africa,” says Tamla Oates-Forney, senior human resources executive for GE Africa. “Our [GE Africa Pipeline Development Strategy] is a comprehensive and sustainable strategy; scalable in nature. With a focus on developing Africans for Africa, irrespective of country, through our PDS, employees have the opportunity to learn, grow and lead.”
General Electric Co. currently operates in 22 African countries through its Aviation, Capital Energy, Healthcare, Transportation and Home and Business Solutions entities, among others. “Africa holds a wealth of opportunities; needs range from basic infrastructure to reliable power supply, accessible quality healthcare, clean water and affordable financing,” says Jay Ireland, president and CEO of GE Africa. “I am … optimistic that one day we will develop global products inspired by Africa’s needs and thinking.”