Studying in the United States – The Power of Choice

 by Donald Blome

Last year I took my son to visit prospective colleges in the United States. Driving up and down the East Coast, we saw them all – private schools, state universities, and technical institutes.

And everywhere we went, there was something new: internships with U.S. businesses; private sector work-study cooperative arrangements; alumni organizations doing amazing community service projects; or clubs of every background, nationality, and shared interest meeting to hold animated exchanges on every topic you could imagine. There is an energy and a buzz on U.S. campuses that I remember from my own university days, and I loved it.

I want to help more Palestinians get there too. According to the Open Doors report from the Institute for International Education, only 462 Palestinian students were studying in the United States in 2015-2016. That number is far too low.

That’s why I launched our #PalStudyUSA2018 campaign earlier this week in Ramallah in conjunction with leading Palestinian officials, educators and alumni of U.S. universities. We’ve already put out a Facebook video looking for talented high school and undergraduate students to apply for an elite “boot camp” with an American expert, focusing on U.S. study from A to Z, including application, testing, and financial aid.

We’re also running a series of intensive week-long information sessions for students and parents at our American Spaces in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza, Salfeet, and Nablus designed to get more Palestinians applying and accepted to U.S. schools and universities. And you’ll soon be seeing stories in newspapers, social media, and on television and radio showing Palestinian students in the States and following their experience.

So why is American education the best in the world? Of course, there are the Harvards and Stanfords, the connections with the private sector, and the way U.S. universities drive innovation from Silicon Valley to Manhattan. But to me, the answer is much simpler: it’s about the power of choice. The choice to study anywhere, from the Ivy League schools to the public universities to community colleges. The choice of major, and the choice to work with your advisor to customize that major in any way you want. And the choice to pursue education outside the classroom, through community service, extracurricular activities, clubs, internships, and relationships that last a lifetime.

And that power of choice gives you choices after you graduate, too. A lot of people think education is just about knowledge. That’s not true. The American model is great because it teaches you not what to think, but how to think. It builds critical thinking and teamwork skills, the qualities everyone needs to succeed in modern, global economies, no matter what their major. It kindles the flame of intellectual curiosity to drive you to never stop learning and improving yourself and your communities, even long after the college experience is over. And the power of choice gives you choices when you graduate to build the career that you deserve.

I know there are concerns – particularly about the cost of a U.S. education. It’s true that the decentralized U.S. system does not provide large government aid in the same way as some other countries do. But many choices for meeting your budget needs are there for those who look for them, including scholarships to help you study in the program you want, rather than a “one size fits all” model.

And we are here to help. Through our educational and scholarship advising in the West Bank and Gaza in partnership with Amideast; through university exchange opportunities with Fulbright, MEPI, and our Global Undergraduate program; and through our new PalStudyUSA2018 campaign. We want to answer your questions, inform your decisions, and help you see firsthand why U.S. colleges and universities are the best in the world.

By the way, my son now studies at an engineering-focused private university in New York. Meanwhile, my daughter is a student at a large public university in the State of Virginia. They’re having very different experiences but both enjoying their study and their life on campus. The power of choice.

The author is the Consul General of the United States of America in Jerusalem