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

“We know that there’s a problem,” says Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to IIE President Allan E. Goodman. “The problem is that African-Americans, Latinos, students of color generally are underrepresented in study abroad compared to their participation in U.S. higher education.” African-Americans are currently 13.5% of the college population.

When it comes to affording an international education, it’s a steep price many students of color are unsure they’re able to pay. Even if they have accepted the offer to study abroad, it’s a struggle to make sure all expenses are covered up until the moment they’re boarding the flight and sometimes thereafter.

“My biggest concern was affording it,” says Stephens, who footed the $12,000-plus excursion with loans, grants and a scholarship. “A week before [my trip] I still didn’t even know if I was going because I didn’t have my plane ticket and it was a constant back-and-forth with financial aid and SU Abroad just to get money.”

Despite the scramble, Stephens advises students not to let that or anything stand in the way of attaining a study abroad experience. “Do not stop at anything to make sure you get the aid. For many students of color, their parents can’t afford it; they don’t see any way to achieve their goal and they kind of give up,” says the 2012 grad. “I would say go after all resources available.”

Jennifer Campbell, assistant director of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program at IIE, agrees. “We’re constantly trying to find connections in the African-American community to reach out to those students and encourage them that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when are you going abroad,” says Campbell.

She notes the program, which provides study-abroad grants for low-income undergraduate students, collaborates with notable organizations such as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) and the National Conference for Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE). With diversity as its motto and 10 years under its belt, the program has awarded over 1,440 African-American students with up to $5,000 each academic year.

“As African Americans we can be successful in international education,” says Campbell.

Stephens made her abroad experience happen, despite the close call.  She regards it as a worthwhile experience—one that has enriched her culturally and professionally.  “The best part,” she says, “was being in a country that will potentially be one of the leaders in the global market.”

For study abroad funding opportunities, visit StudyAbroadFunding.org.

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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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