by Tamerra Griffin
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
The Internet may have afforded its users the ability to embark on visceral international adventures without having to book a plane ticket, but it has also reignited a curiosity for traveling outside national borders. As a result, studying abroad in college is slowly embedding itself in the list of typical college experiences, like joining a fraternity or sorority.
Despite an increasingly globalized world, the number of Black university students who take advantage of international education in their universities compared to the number of their white, Latino and Asian-American counterparts who take advantage of the opportunity is troublingly disparate. According to a study conducted by the Association of International Educators for the 2010-2011 school year, while African-American students comprised 14.5 percent of students enrolled in post-secondary education, they made up 4.8 percent of those who went abroad. These numbers hardly raise an eyebrow until they are matched up against Asian and Pacific Islander students, who make up 6.1 percent of the country’s college student body and 7.9 percent of the study abroad class, and white students, at 60.5 and 77.8 percent, respectively.
According to Starlett Craig, Black students’ misconceptions about overseas experiences play a major role in these lower numbers. Craig, who directs Clemson University’s Office of Academic Excellence at the Charles H. Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education, wrote “Top 10 Reasons for African-American Students to Go Abroad” for Transitions Abroad magazine in 1998. She listed negative race relations as the number one myth Black students believe will sully their time spent in a foreign country, expecting that racism in European countries, for example, will be worse than what they experience in the U.S. She argues that this, coupled with the financial burden of traveling overseas to study, discourages Black college students from exploring that option.
In the 15 years since Craig’s publication, the government has intervened to ensure that financial hardship does not prevent minority and working-class university students from pursuing a semester or year abroad. In 2001, the U.S. Department of State created the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program. The grant is aimed specifically at students of color who demonstrate high financial need and aspire to study in countries other than Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Students with disabilities, as well as those who attend community and historically Black colleges and universities, are strongly encouraged to apply. Since the program’s inception, approximately 5,600 Black students have received scholarships of up to $5,000 to help them go abroad.
Those who opposed the statistics and daunting expectations to complete their studies in other countries shared their stories with the AmNews, showing a range of experiences for Black Americans who travel. From Viña del Mar, Chile to Prague, Czech Republic, the students discussed the different ways Blackness is perceived and treated abroad.
Last summer, DaLisa Barnes flew across the pond to study at the famed Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Barnes, a 25-year-old Chicago native with a penchant for politics, noted that she purposely entered the country with very few expectations of the way she would be treated by Europeans.