“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.