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Top 10 Reasons for African Americans to Study Abroad

Travel to study abroad as an African American, on a bridge in Prague.
Go abroad and be an international student. Prague is one relaxing and inspiring place to start, but London, Paris, Rome, and so many other options on every continent are available to all Americans.

Before going abroad, I was an armchair traveler. I sat at my desk semester after semester doing my job as an international student adviser. I was fascinated by all the students I met, but I was most impressed with the commitment of the Jamaican teachers. For the first time in their lives they were a minority in another country. Yet they never stopped pursuing their educational goals. Against the odds, year after year, they came and went, each with that prized possession: a bachelors or masters degree in education.

I wondered what enabled them to be so confident in their ability to succeed in the U.S. Over the years, it became apparent to me that no one had told them that they could not be successful. Study abroad was the ultimate means to achieve the best possible education.

The students I advised became my role models. They are also the model I put before all African American students.

At the urging of minority advocacy groups, like Black and Multicultural Professionals in International Education (B/MCPIE), Black Professionals in International Affairs (BPIA), and the United Negro College Fund, many student exchange organizations have established scholarships and special projects to promote diversity in study abroad.

Dealing with the Myths

Since African American students form the largest ethnic group in U.S. higher education, it is important to understand the myths associated with study abroad that have limited their participation in student exchange programs and replace them with positive reasons to go abroad. The present generation of African American students will have to work through these myths and overcome racial prejudice in order to achieve their educational objectives abroad.

The number one myth is that the education abroad experience is not for Black students, especially in the traditional European study sites. The assumption is that European racism is so overwhelming that Black students would be better off remaining in their own country where they understand the politics of racism and can make the necessary adjustments. Black students who travel abroad are in fact shocked when they are treated as Americans first and as intelligent students who have earned the right to be studying in the host country. African American students should not fear traveling abroad because of racism.

In my own travels through Europe, I have found the African community in every major city. I was delighted to find that others have already paved the way for African Americans to follow. We can learn much from the African and Caribbean communities in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and beyond.

Now is the time to go: With the internationalization of the American economy, it is imperative that African American students acquire more knowledge of and sensitivity to global issues. This knowledge and experience will enable them to participate fully in a future workforce that will be ethnically and culturally diverse.

My challenge to every African American student pursuing a degree is to begin immediately to chart a new course for the future. Visit your study abroad adviser for guidance. Do it now. It really doesn’t matter where you go. What matters is that you go. Go with the knowledge that someone like you has been there before. In fact, check the travel itinerary of your favorite artists: you might just see them in concert while you are abroad.

Top 10 Reasons to Study Abroad

1. Expand employment opportunities. According to the Diversity Employers, which highlights job opportunities, the outlook reflects the growing importance of internationalization. The top 10 employers are seeking graduates who can think critically and also have a global perspective.

2. Increase your understanding of the world and our society. We can no longer afford to rely on CNN to tell us what we should know about the world. Changing demographics in the U.S. dictate that we must not only acquire a global competence but we must develop an understanding and an appreciation of diversity in our own country. While study abroad can be a vital link to global competence, it is also an integral part of multicultural competence.

3. Broaden your experience. Travel outside the U.S. is an education in itself.

4. Meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. A period of study outside the U.S. enables you to meet students not only from the host country but other nations as well. It is an opportunity to forge international friendships, understand cultural differences, and get rid of old stereotypes.

5. Increase your income potential. Study abroad on your resume definitely gives you a competitive edge. Black Enterprise recently highlighted the importance of the African American presence in the global marketplace and the numerous career and business options for African Americans who set their sights on the big emerging markets (BEMs).

6. Explore new interests. One student went to Mexico to learn the language and have fun. In addition to a Spanish course, she enrolled in modern dance and ballet. At the end of the day, the professor suggested she remain in Mexico and join his dance troupe. After graduating, she opted to continue to see the world and signed up a BUNAC work abroad program.

7. Learn specific skills that are career related. Learn a second language or do an international internship.

8. Gain new insights and outlooks while enjoying new relationships. By living in the country, you get an insider’s perspective on the social and political structure of your host country.

9. Take control of your future. While the debate still continues on the preservation of affirmative action, you will be in a position to compete and fully participate in a global, ethnically diverse workforce.

10. Find out what you want to do in life. While taking a semester off from your regular studies may seem a luxury, it is indeed a wonderful opportunity to redefine your career aspirations in the context of your new self-awareness and newly acquired skills. Many students report that study abroad can be a life-changing experience that can also open many new career choices.

STARLETT R. CRAIG is the Director of Pre-College Enrichment Programs at Clemson Univ. and serves as the national chair of Black and Multicultural Professionals in International Education.

Opportunities Abroad for Americans of Color

Here are some of the many ways for Americans of color to join the global world.

Study Abroad at a cost which need not be a great deal more than staying at home.

Financial Aid and Scholarships. Every college has a financial aid office to help with questions. Also, ask about both financial aid and scholarships when checking out study abroad programs. International Programs for U.S. Students of Color (and Others).

Every study abroad and scholarship program I know of encourages students of color to apply, and a few programs are only for students of color. Here are some worth a look.

  • National Security Education Program (NSEP), Boren Scholarships funds undergraduates and graduate students to study in less-frequented regions, often in less-developed countries. Students of color are encouraged to apply. Contact: NSEP, Boren Awards for International Study.

  • The Peace Corps is a great bet for anyone interested in working directly with ordinary people in most less-developed countries worldwide, and has a very diverse group of volunteers. The U.S. government pays all expenses plus over $10,000 readjustment allowance at the end of the 27-month voluntary commitment.

William Nolting worked for many years at the University of Michigan Overseas Opportunities Office and was the International Educational and former Work Abroad editor for Transitions Abroad Magazine.

The Positive Experience of an African-American Student Intern in South Africa

I was shocked to discover that American culture is so pervasive in South Africa. The familiarity of it was comforting, but I also wanted to experience "Africa." Even though I tried to fight it, the media images of Africa so prevalent in our society were ingrained in my brain.

I was shocked and angered to find that the media had also taught South Africans a distorted view of African Americans. The image of "the violent black male" represented in rap videos was almost all these kids had as a reference for blacks in America.

The majority of the people I encountered in urban and rural areas were very receptive and hospitable to me simply because I am a black American. People felt comfortable discussing issues of race and what their experiences would possibly be like as Africans in America. While I was volunteering at the U.S. Information Service in Durban, students asked me questions that I never heard them ask my boss. As an African American, I was able to provide another face of America for the South African students who visited the center.

Overall, students of color can expect to have a good experience in South Africa simply because they are Americans. In general, an American is an American in South Africa.

NATALIE McFARLIN attends the Univ. of Michigan. Last year she interned with the U.S. Information Agency in Durban, South Africa.

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