Studying Abroad Still an Option for College Students of Color

Despite the hurdles preventing many African-American students from studying abroad, resources and a little perseverance make it a possibility

African-American students make up only 4.2% of students studying abroad (Image: Thinkstock)

Ashley Stephens, a finance and accounting double major at Syracuse University, is still adjusting to the 12-hour time difference between the States and Shanghai, China.  The rising senior spent most of her summer break enrolled in SU Abroad’s The Ascent of the Chinese Economy, followed by an internship at Mary Ching, a luxury shoe and accessories brand.

“The company is looking for investors, so what I did was look at financial records, income statements, and P&L [profit and loss] statements,” says Stephens. “[I] basically looked at what were their bestsellers and the growth of the company.”

In the first half of the program—comprised of eight SU enrolled students—the 20-year-old was one of two students of color, the other student hailed from George Washington University. However, Stephens became the only Black student in a cohort of around 90 during the second portion. It’s a disproportion that’s quite common across college campuses in the United States.

According to the latest Open Doors: Report on International Educational Exchange, a study run by the New York-based not-for-profit organization Institute of International Education (IIE), of the 260,327 students that studied abroad for credit in 2008-09, nearly 81% are White and only 4.2% are Black/African-American.  The same report found 7% of Asians, 6% of Latinos and nearly 2% of multiracial students studied overseas. Looking at the larger picture, college and university students earning  credit abroad is down for the first time in 22 years, but international students studying abroad in the U.S. is on the rise (up 3% to 690,923 during the 2009-10 academic year).

This opportunity gap was addressed by First Lady Michelle Obama last January at the “100,000 Strong” State Visit event on the campus of Howard University in Washington, DC.  Mrs. Obama outlined efforts to support the “100,000 Strong Initiative” to increase both the number and the diversity of young people from the U.S. studying in China. She stressed the benefits of studying abroad, but also made mention of students’ reservations, such as expense, relevance and accessibility.

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  • Missi

    This article really touched me. As a black woman who has been teaching and living outside of the United States for the past six years, I can attest that we are few. I wish that there were more resources available to help those who desire to study abroad. Studying abroad is exactly what inspired me to live abroad. The experience was priceless and has influenced my career and life in general thus far. I cannot say enough great things about experiencing life overseas!

  • Janel Martinez

    Thank you for commenting, Missi. I think it’s great that you’re living abroad now. I’m with you 100%!

    I had the opportunity to study abroad during college and it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had, thus far, in life. It wasn’t easy to finance, but somehow everything worked out. It’s definitely a possibility. It’s just a matter of finding those resources.

    • Andrew

      Study abroad can be a life altering experience and in my opinion it’s worth the time and effort to find the funds. There are scholarships and grants available; some specifically for students of color. As the world becomes smaller international experiences will become that much more important. Thanks for writing the article Janel, we’ll be sure to post it in the Diversity Abroad blog.

  • Brittany

    I loved this article and do wish that more of us had the opportunity to study abroad. I just got back from a semester in Australia this past June, and it was an incredible experience that I will never forget! I do encourage students to save up money and find any resources that you can to study abroad. It may not be easy, but it’s possible!

  • John

    Thank you for this important article. Three other aspects that I would like to underscore: 1) Andrew Gordon’s Diversity Abroad is an invaluable resource to support African-American students’ interest in study abroad. 2) The GLOSSARI study that came from the University Georgia documents that African-American men who study abroad are 18 – 33% more likely to graduate from college. Study abroad is one of the best and least expensive interventions to enhance students’ academic success. 3) Nothing dispels foreigners’ media-driven negative stereotypes of Americans than meeting the fine young students we send abroad.

  • L-Boogie

    It is important to understand that study abroad is an necessary opportunity for students to explore other cultures and gain an appreciation for them.

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