Often turned away by misinformation and doubt, many college students overlook the study abroad opportunities provided to them by their university. The underrepresented cohort of Black students in the study abroad realm is staggering. FAMU’s Study Abroad Fair took place Oct. 4 and it attracted about 800 students. The study abroad opportunities have proven to garner the interest of a considerable number of students at FAMU.
With multiple organizations providing courses overseas in representation at the fair, students had the chance to inquire about general information about coursework, tuition and scholarship opportunities.
Zoe Hightower, a senior public relations student from Dallas, took advantage of the study abroad opportunities presented at the previous year’s fair. This past summer she took courses in Cape Town, South Africa.
While studying South African film, literature and history, she says she benefitted from a plethora of experiences.
“I gained a better perspective of the world around me from interacting with both my peers from the states and natives of South Africa,” Hightower said.
From the perspective of a Black student, Hightower said, “I think it is important for African American students to experience studying abroad. I don’t believe that many know of the opportunities made available to them to travel abroad. I believe that the best way to learn is through traveling and putting yourself in real world experiences and studying abroad is a fun and interactive way to do so,” she said. “Studying abroad was life changing and it is especially important to people of color when it comes to coexisting, better understanding and collaborating with people of different backgrounds.”
Kendra L. Mitchell is an instructor in the English department who is also serving as a Student Fulbright Advisor, a program that promotes cultural appreciation and understanding through direct interaction allowing participants to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs.
Expounding on the lack of awareness for study abroad programs, Mitchell said, “Black students are often less aware of the opportunities study abroad provides. And even when they are made aware, it is usually toward the end of their college career, after they have mapped out their trajectory.”
Kevin Silvera-Lewis, the coordinator of international admissions and recruitment, says Black students rarely are exposed to study abroad programs.
“What I have found since working at this university is that most of the students come from marginalized homes, so they never see themselves as the study abroad type. These students often do not see anyone like themselves on posters and ads with exception to a token Black student or two,” he said.
Although the idea of studying in another country can be exciting, the cost may be a reason why many students choose otherwise. “There are plenty of opportunities for scholarships available for students all over. Students of other races and ethnicities benefit from the same opportunities for scholarships to help pay for these programs,” Lewis said.
When asked about action towards reversing the stigmatization of study abroad culture, Lewis responded, “We have been doing that little by little. With over 800 attendees at the recent study abroad fair, agents from different countries and universities talked to students about all of the tools that they need to study abroad. It is now up to the student to follow through with the interest and take the necessary steps to gain that experience.”