Go Abroad, Young Student: Campus Gifts for International Exchange Are on the Rise

Frank Guarini appreciates how spending time abroad at a young age can pave the way for a rewarding adulthood.

He received a Naval Commendation Medal and three Battle Stars for his naval service in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In his subsequent professional life, he met with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as a member of the first trade mission in 1979. He served as a delegate to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in London. He currently chairs the board of trustees of John Cabot University in Rome.  

So it should come as no surprise that Guarini recently committed $10 million to support Dartmouth’s off-campus and foreign study programs.

"I hope this increased endowment will inspire more students to travel abroad," said Guarini, Class of '46. "There is no better way to promote peace in our world than for young people to immerse themselves in different cultures, getting to know new people and expanding their worldview firsthand."

Promoting world peace is certainly a timely goal right now, with conflicts ongoing on several continents and tensions rising between major powers. Which explains why we've seen an uptick in recent years of campus gifts that aim to better prepare students to engage internationally. And that was before Donald Trump's election. More donors, it seems, are worried about where the world is heading, and want to make sure that the next generation has leaders who can cope with a changing geopolitical landscape. 

Most notably, the private equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman created a major scholarship fund in 2013 to bring U.S. and other students to China for a year of graduate study. The goal, he said, was "To build a culture of greater trust and understanding between China, America, and the rest of the world." Schwarzman put up the first $100 million for the fund, and then raised another several hundred million dollars, including from dozens of global companies. Last year, Phil Knight pledged $400 million to Stanford for a program—the largest of its kind—to bring civically minded students to campus from around the world "to pursue a wide-ranging graduate education at Stanford, with the goal of developing a new generation of global leaders."

Guarini's gift to Dartmouth complements an earlier commitment of $10 million in 2013 to endow the Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education, which strengthened programs in Europe and developed new ones in Africa, eastern Asia, and Central and South America.

Guarini is certainly correct that American students will benefit from an enriching experience abroad and that such exposure can promote peace. But also consider the downstream economic benefits. A 2014 survey by William and Mary found that 40 percent of companies surveyed said they had missed global business opportunities because of a "lack of internationally competent personnel."

Given this purported lack across the U.S. workforce, you'd think more corporate philanthropy would be getting behind this issue, and we've seen some of that, as with the creation of the Schwarzman Scholars. But more striking are moves by private donors in recent years, making gifts of varying sizes. Recently profiled funders in this space include the Starr Foundation and the Speedwell Foundation, which funds up to 30 study-abroad scholarships each year for high school students in central Pennsylvania.

Still, few schools have gone as far as Dartmouth in exposing students to other cultures. It ranks first among Ivy League institutions for study abroad participation, with 55 percent of  undergraduates engaging in more than 40 off-campus learning opportunities in 29 countries.

Given Guarini's aims and Dartmouth's successes, it's worthwhile to address some of the reasons why students don't study abroad. The biggest reason may be cost. Schools like Dartmouth aren't cheap to begin with—total costs hover around $67,000—and many students don't want to dig themselves deeper into debt. Obviously, Guarini's gift will address this issue.

Second, students—and their parents, many of whom may be footing the bill—want to be sure that their daughter's sojourn to, say, Nepal may generate some sort of post-graduation return on investment beyond her going on a Himalayan trek or meeting cool Australians backpackers. It's a cynical way of looking at things, but given the cost of higher education and the tight job market for graduates, parents can't help but worry about what happens once their child steps back on U.S. soil.

Unsurprisingly, Guarini's commitments address these concerns, as well. The Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education offers more than 40 off-campus venues through Dartmouth Language Study Abroad (LSA), Dartmouth Foreign Study Programs (FSP), and Dartmouth Exchange Programs. More than 600 undergraduates participate in one of the programs each academic year in language study, government, economics, the sciences, history, and classics. In other words, they remain on track with their studies. 

Meanwhile, Guarini's new gift will allow Dartmouth to (among many other things) develop new experimental international programs that meet the needs of students and faculty. Examples include interdisciplinary studies in anthropology and environmental science in Africa, or classics and computer science in Europe.

"There is no greater champion of the distinct advantages of a Dartmouth education than Frank Guarini," said President Hanlon. “As we look to prepare students to lead and thrive on a diverse, global stage, his recent gift will help strengthen and secure Dartmouth’s place as a beacon of cultural learning."