CSM has an article up on the importance of American students studying abroad. From the perspective of globalization, the intertwining of the worlds state economies the importance is fairly obvious. The article also addresses the need for both American's to have an idea of how the world sees our culture and the need to bring our culture abroad through means other than media, entertainment and commercial products:
Ignorance of the world is a national liability. The 9/11 Commission wrote: "The United States should rebuild the scholarship, exchange and library programs that reach out to young people and offer them knowledge and hope."
Our intent was not simply to educate Arabs and Muslims about America, but to educate Americans about the world. Americans in vastly greater numbers must devote a substantive portion of their education to gaining an understanding of other countries, regions, languages, and cultures through direct personal experience.
Legislation to secure this vision is one step from enactment in Congress. The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act would set up a small, entrepreneurial government foundation to provide seed money to colleges and universities to support study abroad and make study abroad programs more accessible.
Beyond this macroscopic vision is the personal effect leaving ones own culture and immersing themselves in another can have. From my own experiences I'd liken it to something of a cultural basic training. Like the military process, you are essentially broken down and then rebuilt. Stepping off a plane and into a foreign country (the more foreign the better) immediately reduces you to square one in terms of socio-behavioral complexities. The basic human framework is still in place but now you've got a whole lot of fine tuning to do before you can begin to "socially harmonize" and integrate yourself into the fabric of the host culture.
Additionally the experience of a semblance of culture shock when one returns to their homeland is quite something.