What are the barriers to studying abroad?
Cost is a big, big barrier–studying abroad is expensive; also culture. Many of our students are first generation, so just navigating a university campus is a big enough challenge, let alone getting on a plane to go study abroad. Also, curriculum. Many majors are very structured, so students don’t have the opportunity to study abroad. One of the things I’m very excited about in our collaboration with Mary Beth and her team and the initial group of MSI presidents, is figuring out how to overcome [the curriculum barrier].
Also, for some, not having a passport is a barrier. To get one, you need $135 and your original birth certificate. So CIEE now has a big campaign–we have a passport caravan where we’re going around to our university partners and we’re giving away passports. If you have a passport, it’s going to be more real to you that you will go abroad when the opportunity presents itself.
Gasman: Regarding costs and the cultural barriers, in Latino and black culture, where students have obligations to their families–often sending money home from a work study job–studying abroad seems like a luxury. Also, some institutions make it difficult. There are impediments to using financial aid and impediments to transferring in your courses. For many low-income students of color, once those impediments are in the way, they act as a deterrent. Institutions have to work really hard to move those deterrents out of the way so we can create more opportunities. School culture is also an impediment. Some schools see it as a luxury and not as an important element, in terms of preparing students to be global citizens and to have more globally focused jobs.
Frain: Everyone needs to have some international experience. The U.S. is insular, parochial. We don’t speak other languages. We don’t travel. Most Americans don’t have passports, [not to mention] young people. So studying abroad needs to be valued as a learning opportunity for our students. Even if you’re in the worst taught class at the university because the academic culture is different–there’s a learning opportunity there–for kids to compare and contrast and develop values.
Gasman: There are 600 or more minority-serving institutions responsible for educating 20% of all college students and a great number of students of color, so [working with these institutions] is a way to really change the landscape of who studies abroad. All the presidents that had not attended the meeting in Berlin wanted to get in–they wanted to be able to offer this opportunity to their students. CIEE makes studying abroad easier by helping institutions think through how to make it happen. There isn’t the excuse of ‘it can’t be done.’ CIEE takes the approach of, ‘well, here are the difficulties, but let’s see how we can make it happen.’
To learn more about the partnership between CIEE and the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, and the two organizations’ shared goal of increasing minority participation in study abroad programs, go to www.ciee.org and www.gse.upenn.edu/cmsi.