Florida A&M University is making an effort to increase the representation of minority students in study-abroad programs.
Many students on FAMU’s campus are eager to go overseas for a semester or during the summer, yet there is still a low number of students of color taking their books abroad due to: financial concerns, fear of the unknown, or lack of support.
FAMU’s Department of International Education and Development has taken steps to ensure students can have a study abroad experience. Aleksanda Benedict, the study abroad program coordinator, noted the racial differences in students traveling overseas.
“Among those 300,000 students who study abroad every year, only 5.6 percent are African American students, and 75 percent are white students,” Benedict said. “Our main goal is to increase the number of black students or students of color studying abroad because there is still a huge gap.”
FAMU students who want to study abroad have plenty of opportunity: scholarships, internships and fellowships are all available, Benedict said. The Office of International Education and Development is a passport acceptance facility for students, employees and members of the community. The study abroad ambassador program helps recruit students who have a desire to travel.
Alexia Wilson, a senior education abroad ambassador, believes studying abroad can be a life-enriching experience. She believes there is a great benefit to experience the cultures of other countries.
“In America, the focus is on things like wealth and popularity. If you never experience anything different, it's very easy to believe that's all there is to life, or that's the only way to be truly happy,” Wilson said. “Seeing the way other communities engage with the world can give you a completely new perspective on what it means to be fulfilled.”
Throughout the year, the department hosts cultural events to ensure students are informed about the opportunities for studying abroad. The effort appears to be paying off. While only about 60 students attended the study abroad fair in the spring of 2018, Benedict said some 200 students came to the fair earlier this year.
Melissa Lavoile, a senior political science major at FAMU, plans to study in South Korea this summer. She expressed her desire to share her culture with different parts of the world.
“I think it’s important so we can write our own narrative because most of these countries that haven’t come in contact with black people have this stereotype that America portrays,” said Lavoile. “I don’t want that to be what the world thinks of us.”