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Unique in­sights into U.S. higher ed­u­ca­tion

The U.S. is renowned for its top-of-the league education and research universities. As Head of the International Office, Anne-Marie Jaeger's role is to forge student exchange partnerships with American universities and to advise Swiss students about education opportunities in the States. Aside from familiarity with the ivy league universities and other top-ranking U.S. institutions, she was less aware of other highly-regarded universities. When a personal invitation came in from the U.S. Embassy in Bern to join their IVLP "International Visitors Leadership Programme" it was an opportunity not to be missed. Funded by the U.S. State Department and organised by the non-profit organisation Meridian, a delegation of 7 Swiss colleagues responsible for student mobility and international relations from ETH Zürich, the University of Basel, University of Bern, University of Liechtenstein, University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons, University of St Gallen, University of Zürich were invited to join this 10-day exchange program. The main goal was to connect Swiss and U.S. universities, explore collaboration opportunities and discover what internationalisation means to US universities.

The first four university visits were in Washington D.C. and the neighbouring states Maryland and Virgina. Before the official programme started, we were taken on a tour of the capital by an extremely knowledgeable guide. The White House was surprisingly small and the Capitol much more accessible then I had expected. The National Mall and its Memorial Parks, known as “America’s Front Yard” is home to many of the country’s most iconic memorials. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial where Martin Luther king delivered his "I have a dream speech" to civil rights activists in 1963 was a personal highlight for me.

Demonstrators infront of the White House

The Capitol

National Mall

Marthin Luther King Monument


We were welcomed by our hosts from the U.S. State Department and the Meridian Center for a programme briefing and were given an insightful lecture about federalism by Dr. Edward Rhodes. The first university we visited was the University of Maryland, a so-called "land grant" university. In the 1860s the federal government granted land to the state governments in order for them to establish universities focussing on subjects such as agricultural, engineering, military science, science. Whilst the University of Maryland still works in these traditional fields they now offer a full spectrum of study programmes and research. Similar to UAS Grisons, there is a close connection with regional industry partners and governmental stakeholders. I was particularly impressed by the UMD's campus with its historical buildings and vast, landscaped lawns with tree-lined avenues. In terms of internationalisation, we were introduced to the multiple pathways UMD offers its students to experience internationalisation, such as the "global classroom" - a virtual exchange format, engagement activities with local refugee communities as well as traditional study abroad programmes.

After a reception at the Embassy of Liechtenstein, where our host Ambassador Georg Sparber gave us his personal insights into the U.S. education system, the following day was jam-packed with three university visits. Our first visit was to George Mason University, which is the largest public research university in the state of Virginia with 39'000 students. GMU also has a campus in downtown DC and off-shore in Korea. With 4'000 international students from 130 countries, they offer strong support services for this diverse community. We spoke to staff about their support for F1 and J1 visa applications and the strict compliance regulations U.S. universities are required to adhere to. After a morning full of insightful discussions about GMU's internationalisation strategy and activities, we headed back to D.C. to visit George Washington University, a private university founded in 1821. GWU forges strong connections with global stakeholders in the capital and aims to provide its students with immersive global learning experiences. Over 1'000 GWU students study abroad each year on exchange, short-term programmes, internships abroad or on their signature "global bachelors" programme. The last stop of the day was Georgetown University, founded in 1789 a private research university with Catholic and Jesuit heritage. Their flagship building on the main campus, Healey Hall, is a historic landmark of national importance. We gained insights into their international programmes, including their off-shore campus in Qatar and centers in Germany and Italy. It was interesting to share experiences about the impact COVID on mobility programmes. It seems that students are now highly motivated to now compensate their lack of travel opportunities over the pandemic years.

Meridian Center

Meridian Center

Embassy of Liechtenstein

Explaining the Swiss HE System

Georgetown University

Georgetown University

Maryland University


Heading north, we next visited Wayne State University in Detroit. Welcomed by WSU's friendly staff, we were shown around campus and got a glimpse of orientation day, where prospective freshman students were being introduced to the campus. Detroit is an area of ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and cultural diversity. It experienced a severe recession and bankruptcy in 2013 and has been slowly recovering with investment in urban development projects. With this background for its diverse student population from low average income family backgrounds, Wayne State is proud to be ranked number 1 for social mobility improvement. The university offers stipends to students who want to study abroad. However, as the majority of students cannot afford to study abroad or are working part-time, the university has developed outreach projects such as "service learning" in the local immigrant communities. Virtual exchange is also an important tool for students to gain valuable international experience.

Michigan State University was our next destination. Located in East Lansing, this vast campus which accommodates 50'000 students and is a town in itself. Founded in 1862 as a land-grant institution, MSU is ranked #1 for study abroad among public universities in U.S. with more than 275 programs in over 60 countries and on all 7 continents. The engaged international team gave us insights into MSU's internationalisation strategy, which provides faculty with a clear framework on how to internationalise their curricula. We were also introduced to the Alliance for Africa Partnerships (AAP) programme, a consortia of Michigan State University and leading African universities and research institutes.

The last stop in Michigan was Lawrence Technical University, a private university with 4'000 students, focussing on Architecture & Design, Arts & Sciences, Business and IT as well as Engineering. Despite being a relatively small university, the facilities on campus are none the less impressive. Like UAS Grisons, the LTU has close ties with local industries, such as the historic connection to the Detroit-based automobile giant Ford. As a university focussing on STEM subjects, graduates are well-sought after with a 100% employment rate. The university's president, Dr. Tarek M Sobh, gave us a personal welcome and informed us about the university's history and opportunities for global collaboration.

Our stay in Michigan was rounded up with a visit to the spectacular Henry Ford Museum of Innovation and an unforgettable evening watching a Detroit Tigers baseball game. Our neighbouring spectators couldn't quite believe that a group of ladies from Switzerland and Liechtenstein wearing Wayne State University t-shirts were watching the match - it seems that we were the star guests of the evening.

Wayne State University Detriot

Our group with WSU's mascot

The Capitol - Lansing, MI

Supreme Court

State Senate

LTU Detroit

Henry Ford Museum

Ford - Model T4

Baseball game

The Tigers

CH/LI supporters


The trip was coming to an end, but with three more days in Florida left, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center, an evening dinner at a host family as well as visits to four more institutions, our agenda was full of experiences.

Our next stop was Valencia College, which is a so-called "community college". The two-year Associate Degrees provide vocational and technical foundation skills and allow students to transfer to higher level academic Bachelor programmes at Valencia College or at another university. As community colleges are far more affordable and accessible, they are also extremely popular in the U.S. Valencia's recruitment of international students is an important source of revenue diversification for the college. The international office team impressed us with their holistic approach to international student services. They offer support with recruitment, visa advising, personal counselling, special needs and academic issues. No wonder that they are ranked 5th for hosting international students by the American Institute of International Education. Their "global distinction" programme allows students who can't study abroad the opportunity to take courses with international focus and engage in co-curricula activiities in order to earn microcredential points in their e-portfolio.   

The next university we visited was Rollins College, which is located in Orlando's wealthly Winter Park neighbourhood. It is a private, liberal arts college with over 2'000 students. The campus provides a very attractive setting and top-level support services. Parents in the US universities play an important role, not only due to the fact that tuition fees are exorbitantly high at private universities but also because American students are much younger and less independent then their European counterparts. This high service-orientation is reflected in their tailor-made international study abroad programmes, which over 70% of students at Rollins attend. Staff are given strong incentives to have global experiences and to foster academic collaboration abroad.

Finally, our last day we visited the University of Central Florida, which is the second largest university in the U.S. with over 68'000 students. We were taken on tour of this vast 1'420 acre campus in golf carts and explored the facilities, which even included its own baseball stadium. Staff briefed us on various aspects of UCF's internationalisation acvities in research and education. We also gained practical tips and ideas about best-practice support services for international students and learned about collaboration opportunities such as dual degrees, student exchange, study abroad and virtual exchange. 

Our ILVP experience ended at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a private university focused on aviation and aerospace programs. It is the largest and most respected university specializing in aviation and aerospace in the U.S. and also offers degree programmes in Business, Engineering, IT, Safety and Security. The impressive futuristic buildings on the campus at Daytona Beach are reminiscent of airport terminals and the facilities are impressive - including flight simulators and even their own airport. We learned about ERAU's close collaboration with corporate and governmental partners, including NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration. We were also introduced to ERAU's worldwide campus, with locations in Europe, Asia as well as their successful online degree programmes.

Rollins College

Rollins College

Pride month at Rollin College's library

Tour of UCF's vast campus

Embry Riddle University

Flight simulator at ERAU

Flight simulator at ERAU



It was an absolute privilege to have been invited by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs on this insightful IVLP delegation visit. I made connections with universities, gained insights about the different types of universities and educational pathways, and I am now clear on the important factors to consider when collaborating with U.S. institutions. I also experienced enriching cultural events and developed friendships with Swiss colleagues. All in all, an unforgettable experience - thank you to the IVLP team for this incredible opportunity!

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