Students of color studying abroad

Studying Abroad can be a great asset to a student’s college experience, but what does it look like for a student of Color?

Christina Gardner, The Black Bear – The number of students across the country who have participated in study away programs has been on the rise. According to data from the Missouri State Study Away record,  Missouri State University increased study away participation 108% from 2009 to 2016.

Most students who write reviews for various studying abroad agencies talk about their experiences positively, expressing that they learned a lot all while having a great deal of fun. Most institutions, including MSU, allow students to take part in exchange programs where they pay the same amount in tuition abroad as they are pay at their own institution.

So why don’t more black students study abroad?

According to data from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), while black students make up 14.7% of overall college students nationally, they only make up 5.6% of students who study abroad.

NASPA also states that white students make up 59.3% of overall college students yet make up 74.3% of students who study abroad. As far as the national trend goes, the face of studying abroad is the white middle class woman.

MSU mirrors this trend, but Elizabeth Strong, MSU Director of Study Away, said that she and her office are trying to combat this.

MSU offers study away stipends worth $500 for students who have received the Board of Governors Scholarship and the University Scholarship. Strong said she hopes to have a similar stipend given to students who receive the Inclusive Excellence Leadership Scholarship, formerly known as the Multicultural Leadership Scholarship, in order to help ease some of the financial burden of the costs of studying abroad.

Another trend according to MSU study away data shows that more students are starting to take part in short term, faculty led study away programs. Strong feels that this is important in regards to the number of black students who study abroad.

“I believe the more faculty of color we have to lead study away trips, perhaps the more students of color we have study abroad would increase too,” Strong said.

Taylor Vinson, a senior communications major, took part in a short term study abroad experience in Europe during May with the School of Business.

“I chose to do the short term faculty one because it was my first time going abroad and I wasn’t sure how I would feel going away by myself for a long period of time,” Vinson said. “I thought going with a group would be a better first experience, and now that I know what to expect, I want to go back and study away for a semester long.”  

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Photo courtesy of Taylor Vinson.

Because of Strong’s position, she has been able to interact with several black students who have studied abroad. She says that some of the students she spoke with who studied away had a unique experience.

“One of the things I’ve found for students of color is that they say in other countries that they’re not seen as African American, they’re just seen as American,” Strong said. “I’ve heard from students that this is liberating.”

Jamahl Bonds, a senior Global Studies major, found that people tended to assume his national origins quite often. Bonds studied in Brussels, Belgium where he said that there were a great deal of Congolese immigrants. He said that sometimes people of Congolese descent would ask him for directions and that other groups assumed he was from the Congo.

Bonds is a French minor. He said he was able to learn more French while being in Belgium and a small amount of Dutch.

“I learned enough to say yes, no, thank you, how much is this,” Bonds laughed.

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Photo courtesy of Jamahl Bonds.

Bonds says he always knew he wanted to travel and would not mind going back to Brussels to live.

Though most students discuss having incredibly positive experiences with study away, the prospect of studying abroad in certain places on the globe can present certain unpleasant situations for black students.

Joy Donnelly, a senior marketing major, originally planned on studying away in Bulgaria during the past spring but racism in the country put her in a difficult place.

Around two weeks after I sent in my application I received an email from the State Department that in short warned me against going to Bulgaria because of a lack of safety for African Americans,” Donnelly said. “At first, I really didn’t understand how serious the warning was, but after speaking with my study away adviser and my parents, we decided to heed the warning and choose another location.

“After this decision I felt so many things from embarrassment to disappointment, sadness and confusion,” Donnelly said. “But, mainly I was outraged. I was mad that I couldn’t go anywhere I wanted to safely because of my skin color. I was jealous of the obvious privilege that my Caucasian counterparts exhibited with their ease of being able to go anywhere without fear of persecution.”

She soon after decided to study away in Milan, Italy and said she felt that was where she was destined to be.

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Photo courtesy of Joy Donnelly.

She said that in Italy, her blackness was glorified and that people constantly touched her hair, skin and called her “bella,” the Italian word for beautiful. In spite of her rough start, Donnelly says she cannot deny that studying abroad is one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

Donnelly said,“I cannot stress enough that if you have the chance or even the smallest desire to see the world, that you need to do it,” Donnelly said. “Look at scholarships and talk to the Study Away office just to see if it could potentially be an option. This is the best time to do it.”

This story was originally published on September 11, 2016

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