Studying abroad gives students the option to take their education to the next level by experiencing learning in a new environment. Traveling can be a learning experience, but many don’t have the resources to leave home and learn in other countries.
This is most often the case for African-American college students. According to the Institute of International Education, only about 5 percent of those who study abroad are African-American. UT’s 2014–2015 report said that out of the 3,703 students that studied abroad, only 4 percent were black. Javier Wallace, a curriculum and instruction graduate student, said he was initially hesitant to travel outside America because of fears of racial discrimination within the U.S.
“Coming from the United States where it is such a unique predicament being black people … We have the fear of the unknown just walking out of our front door in our own cities,”
However, Wallace said traveling abroad allowed him to have a personal connection with his culture when he spent five years in Panama. Wallace said his father was from Panama and when he got there, he realized how different it was to be black in another culture. He learned about how the black experience may not always be positive in America, but that in other countries, it came with privilege.
“For me, it became liberating because I never experienced privilege in the United States, but it becomes burdensome to see people who look like me not experiencing privilege,”
Lashawn Washington, a curriculum and instruction graduate student, said studying abroad gave her the chance to see life beyond her African-American community.
“I think it’s the mind frame of exposure and the lack thereof,” Washington said.
Washington said black students from different backgrounds can see leaving a community or going to another state as a major accomplishment, let alone going to another country entirely. She said that after her first trip abroad, she sees travel as a way of life that she must learn from.
“I read this quote once saying, ‘Travel is education,’” Washington said. “It is just a different way of learning that is incapacitated in the States.”
Devin Walker, a curriculum and instruction graduate student, said he sees study abroad programs differently for black students.
“I don’t believe that study abroad programs are designed or marketed towards black students,” Walker said.
Walker said he believes that more black students should study abroad because so many are used to the Western view of society. He said going to predominantly black countries and seeing black people succeed beyond their skin color can awaken a sense of pride.
Although racial issues may be a reason for some black students’ hesitation to participate in these programs, cost is the most powerful. Wallace said that the number one question he gets from black students is about the expense. He said he doesn’t believe that the money should stop black students from the programs.
“Don’t let money be the initial deterrent from dropping out of the program,” Wallace said.
Wallace said UT can provide financial aid for study abroad trips any many ways and some programs even have their own scholarships. He said he believes no matter the circumstance that black students should see traveling abroad as a can’t-miss part of their education.
“We are global, we are everywhere, and we are loved all over the world,” Walker said.