Peace Corps vs. VISTA

Only folks of a certain age will know that VISTA stands for:  Volunteers in Service to America.  Service in poor communities in the U.S., on reservations, in Appalachian towns, in rural Alaskan villages — was never as popular or sexy as service overseas.  Now that we’re commemorating the 50th anniversary – which somehow seems like the wrong term to apply – of JFK’s assassination, I was thinking of the moment of choice for undergrads back in the day…

The reason I was dwelling on these two avenues for service has to do with the Open Doors stats just released showing that over 90% of U.S. undergrads never leave the U.S. at any point in their four years of study.  And then I was thinking, so what.  Instead of trying to push and push and innovate in all ways to increase the percentage who go abroad, why not work with the reality that most students remain in their home campus communities – and provide the means for them to develop their intercultural skills and competencies with in our borders.  It’s cheaper.  It’s less risky (for those families who would rather not have their children travel abroad). It’s just as important.

This quote is from the President of IIE upon release this week of their annual Open Doors report:  “Commenting on the fact that 90 percent of American undergraduates still do not study abroad, Dr. Goodman said, “We need to increase substantially the number of U.S. students who go abroad so that they too can gain the international experience which is so vital to career success and deepening mutual understanding.”  Yes, but this lament occurs annually when the report from IIE is published. The movement of students to study abroad has increased at a glacial pace over the decades. 

We have so many unmet needs in our nation’s poorest communities…there are innumerable opportunities for students to serve and learn at home.

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