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Michelle Obama's reasons to study abroad

By CNN Staff
updated 2:01 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michelle Obama launches new focus on studying abroad during China trip
  • Her emphasis is on the importance of learning from one another's cultures
  • Obama answered viewer-submitted questions in exclusive CNN iReport Interview
  • More than 350 questions were submitted

(CNN) -- Although Michelle Obama's primary White House initiative has been conquering childhood obesity, the first lady is focusing on a new area during her first official trip to China: studying abroad.

Obama, who landed in China on Wednesday, is there to emphasize the importance of students learning from one another's cultures. She is making a week-long trip to visit children at several schools in three Chinese cities.

The first lady took time in Beijing to answer viewer-submitted questions about studying abroad in an exclusive CNN iReport Interview. More than 350 questions were submitted to CNN iReport from students, parents and avid travelers.

Several great questions made it into the final video interview, but for the questions that didn't make the cut, here is the transcript of the first lady's responses. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click on each iReporter's name to watch the original video question.

What is your most memorable cultural and travel experience?
-- Ovunuchi Ejiohuo, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Michelle Obama: I'm blessed to have so many phenomenal cultural experiences, everything from traveling to so many parts of Africa to meeting with the Pope at the Vatican to being here at Peking University. Everywhere I go, I'm always struck by the reality that we have so much more in common throughout the world, regardless of where we're born, our race, our religious beliefs. We're all striving for the best for our communities and for our families. This is why study abroad is so important. The more young people get the opportunity to travel the world, live in other cultures and learn new languages, the more they will begin to understand our shared ideals and the shared opportunities to keep moving this world forward.

Studying abroad could give you an edge in the job market

How can we, as students, help push our fellow students and the next generation abroad? How can we help you in your efforts to make the United States a more worldly and open-minded nation?
-- Ethan Higgins, Prescott, Arizona

Obama: I think so many people in your generation already get it in ways that people in my generation didn't get it. One thing I shared during my speech here in Peking (University) was that when I was in college, I never took advantage of the opportunities to study abroad. Some of it was because I was afraid. Some of it was because I didn't know what opportunities existed. Some of it was because I though the best thing I could do was finish my degree, get out there in the world and make money as fast as I could. But now, more and more young people are coming to college with a broader sensibility. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that people have access to the Internet. You guys are seeing the world through eyes that I never had access to when I was your age.

I would just encourage you to continue to be a voice for the importance of travel and stepping outside of your comfort zones to the extent that you're mentoring other young people where you're from, going to schools, encouraging young people to learn new languages and not be afraid to try new things, even if it's as simple as going to another community and trying a different kind of food.

We live in the United States of America, where there's almost every culture, every language you can imagine right here on our soil. We can start by experiencing the diversity in our own communities. One good way to do that is through service to the community. But I have the utmost of confidence in your generation. You guys are already making me and my husband very proud. Just keep up the great work.

What lasting benefit does study abroad have on students once they return to the United States?
-- Jack Burrus, Miami

Obama: The benefits of study abroad are almost endless. First of all, it's going to make you much more marketable here in the United States, because more and more companies are realizing that they need people with experiences around the world, who can speak different languages, who can transition easily into other cultures and people who bring to their jobs a sensibility and a sensitivity for other people.

It will also make you more compassionate. We could always use more compassionate, young leaders out there in the world, people who are willing to step outside their comfort zones and be open to wiping away misconceptions.

Especially for U.S. students, it's very hard to stay in your comfort zone when you're living in another country. When you're struggling with a language, new foods, learning directions, being forced to make friends and do things that you wouldn't normally do, that's going to set you up for a lifetime of value. It's going to make you a better parent. It's going to make you a better human being.

I want more young people like you to take that step. Try something new, travel abroad, and if you can't travel abroad, use the Internet to see the world.

How can we make foreign exchange opportunities available for all students and not just the affluent?
-- Cate Thompson, Anderson, North Carolina

Obama: Great question, and thanks for your work teaching our kids. Keep it up. Making sure that all of our kids in the United States have access to opportunities to study abroad, regardless of their race or socioeconomic background, is going to be critical for us. One of the things that the President has done by promoting 100,000 Strong is work in partnership with institutions in the United States and abroad, and with U.S. companies, to increase the opportunities for more young people to study abroad, regardless of where they're from. One of the things that he and I talk about is the shared connection that we gain when we have educational exchange opportunities between countries that are enhanced by ensuring that the folks who represent the United States, represent all of the United States.

Kids like me, who grew up in a working-class background, grew up in a tiny apartment and went to public schools, there's a perspective that I uniquely have to share with the rest of the world. And the same is true for a kid growing up in a rural China or a kid who is a studying in Kenya. They need to have opportunities to travel the world because they are going to be our future leaders, and their voices are one that we have to hear as we continue to develop this world and continue to tackle the challenges that we will inevitably face.

Diversity is key, and we will continue to do all that we can here in this administration to continue to lift up opportunities and make them accessible for all of our young people.

How do we get parents to be comfortable with the idea of their children studying abroad and supporting them in this endeavor?
-- Letitia Wright of Rancho Cucamonga, California

Obama: Getting parents on board when it comes to studying abroad is key. We all as parents want the best for our kids, but sometimes it's a little hard to let them out of the nest. One of the things that we really need to do is to provide more information for parents so they have an understanding why study abroad is important, how it's going to expand the opportunities for their loved ones and how are they going to be able to afford it. Oftentimes that is a key deterrent for many families who don't have the resources they need to understand what the economic impact will be on their families and on their kids. They also need to understand more about an ever-globalizing economy and that traveling abroad is no longer just a nice thing to do; it's becoming more and more a central part of a student's educational experience.

We need people like you, who have had the experience, to be spokespeople, talk about it in your churches and your communities, and the more people hear about these opportunities, the more parents will become comfortable with letting their kids go.

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