At his Senate confirmation hearing today, Richard Stengel, nominee for Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, stressed his long-time commitment to public diplomacy and pledged to advance international cultural exchanges.
Stengel said he would focus on a number of issues he considers vital to U.S. national interests, including the advancement of “public diplomacy’s focus on youth, including girls and underserved communities,” as well as the promotion of educational exchanges:
“If confirmed, I will also be a champion of educational diplomacy. Education is one of our greatest strategic assets. Our institutions, where more than 700,000 foreign students come, are incubators of democracy and they’re learning that the English language is critical because it is the language of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Adding that the U.S. “is also the leader in technologies that are revolutionizing the way people learn,” Stengel pledged to “employ these strategic assets to tailor educational exchanges to the 21st century.”
The use of social media and other technological tools is also critical for U.S. engagement with audiences worldwide, Stengel said, adding that these efforts “cannot, of course, replace people-to-people diplomacy. That’s indispensable.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) commented during the hearing on the impact it had on him to see “how many people, because they’ve gone to school in the United States, when they return home have a much clearer understanding of what [the U.S.] is really like and what our freedoms entail.” Noting that “these young people return home, highly skilled, highly-educated” and “become potentially the future leaders of those societies,” Rubio asked Stengel: “What can be done from a public policy perspective to encourage more of these opportunities to the extent that they are cost-effective and feasible?”
Agreeing with Rubio that spending time in the U.S. makes international visitors “more sympathetic to the American view,” Stengel expressed his belief that the U.S. “higher educational system and the educational and cultural exchanges … is something that is vital and powerful and its effect is incalculable.” He further told the Committee that he was “overjoyed” to learn that Chinese President Xi Jingping, on a recent visit to the U.S., made a point of visiting the host family in Iowa he had stayed with on an exchange program several decades ago.“The value of that is extraordinary,” Stengel said, adding:
“I’m a big believer in educational diplomacy and I will try to increase the number of exchanges because I think that the long-term benefit of that is something that we all want.”