In some communities, foreign travel is viewed as a rite of passage to round out the college experience. But far too few African Americans are taking advantage of the opportunity to Broaden their horizons in the world classroom for reasons that include lack of access to information about opportunities, limited funds, language restrictions and concentration in fields that are not targeted for foreign exchange programs.
An obvious and easily remedied factor may be simply a matter of marketing efforts that do not suggest diverse participation. Accordingly, organizations including the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) are actively working to encourage and support travel abroad among minority students. The College Fund/UNCF is a consortium of 41 private, historically Black colleges and universities.
“We live in a global village where technology and commerce have redrawn boundaries,” says William H. Gray III, president and CEO of UNCF. “It is imperative that we learn about other cultures and expose students and faculty to international opportunities.”
The USIA, a major funding source for national foreign exchange programs, is encouraging minority participation by reviewing which students participate and broadening destination options as part of its funding criteria.
“It’s been a priority for USIA to get more minority students participating in exchange programs,” said Deborah C. Herrin, deputy director of the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), an organization receiving funds from USIA.
“We’ve changed our poster to include a collage of students that represents a visual image that the program is open to a diverse cross section of students.” Also, unlike in the past, students who are receiving financial aid may now, in some cases, use the aid to study abroad.
Three HBCUs in ISEP
Even though ISEP was established in 1979 under the Fulbright-Hays Act, with the mission of ensuring that study abroad is available to all qualified participants, regardless of social and economic background, only a little more than 2 percent of ISEP’s 11,000 exchange students have been African Americans.
But the new efforts may change that.
The ISEP membership network includes 225 institutions, three of whom are historically Black colleges and universities — Howard, Lincoln and Tennessee State universities. Students in this pool are matriculated directly into host universities for year-long placements in countries that include Argentina, Tanzania, Austria, France and the United Kingdom.
“The U.S. is preparing for a world that is becoming increasingly global, and we have to have well-trained citizens,” said Alan Kirschner, executive vice president for programs at UNCF’s headquarters in Fairfax, Va. “They must have foreign language proficiency and international experiences.”
UNCF and the Institute of International Education, with a $255,650 grant from the Ford Foundation, have joined forces to strengthen international studies programs at HBCUs. The three-year project is designed to provide greater access to international study to a broader base of U.S. students, including those at HBCUs, who are currently underrepresented in study abroad programs.
Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College, all in Atlanta, were selected as leaders in study abroad programs and will serve as HBCU mentor institutions for advice and consultation throughout the three-year project. Six other UNCF member institutions — Dillard University, Johnson C. Smith University, LeMoyne-Owen College, Paine College, Talladega College, and Wiley College — have been selected to participate in the project. Each institution will receive access to information about international education opportunities, as well as resources to train one designated faculty member in study abroad advising and advocacy.
In addition to the new partnership, UNCF has also established the Institute for International Policy, funded by the Department of Education. The institute was created a year ago to prepare students for careers in international affairs, conduct summer institutes and offer study-abroad opportunities and internships as well as foreign language institutes.
HBCUs are taking exchange programs seriously. “The university-sponsored study abroad program brings international students to the campus for residencies so that the entire student body and faculty can have someone in the classroom from other cultures and with different perspectives,” said N.C. Jesse Dent, director of International Studies at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte.
At the University of Michigan, several programs offer travel programs. However, the Center for Afro-American Studies and African Studies offers the Summer Program in Jamaica, a study abroad program with a 95 percent minority participation. Having the program based in the center has offered more opportunities for minority students, who represent only a small percent of participants in other university foreign-exchange programs.
Lincoln University in Pennsylvania has positioned itself as an international university with a long history of foreign exchange opportunities. “Since the earliest days, Lincoln graduates went to Liberia,” said Dr. Joy Gleason Carew, director of the Center for the Study of Critical Languages at Lincoln. “The university was all male at the time, and was training young men for global service. It also had the focus of the Presbyterian ministry.”
Chartered in 1854, Lincoln was the first institution founded to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for youth of African descent. Lincoln has attracted foreign leaders as Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria. Students have long been encouraged to look beyond their back yards to expand their education.
That tradition continues with the establishment of the Center for Public Policy and Diplomacy, the Center for the Comparative Study of the Humanities, the Center for African Studies, and the Center for the Study of Critical Languages and Cultures.
The latter is where Dr. Carew focuses on Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Russian — languages spoken in countries of geographic and economic significance. The center works along with the linguistic department to expand students’ knowledge and awareness of the critical languages and their countries cultures.
“These are four languages not often taken by students,” Dr. Carew said. “Lincoln wanted to make sure these programs had some extra support along with the other languages, as well as to encourage more students of color to take them.
“I bring in speakers and may find funds to support study abroad. We also bring programs and seminars to campus, where we look at the cultures of those who speak the language. We want students to understand how certain decisions are made if you come from a particular culture.”
The university offers nine languages and requires travel abroad for those studying them. Carew said the university urges students in all majors to take advantage of such opportunities for foreign travel as UNCF’s program, which has sent students to Poland, and grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants to study science abroad.
“Often these students don’t travel,” she said. “This program takes them abroad for summer work and they are placed with a mentor. This summer seven to 10 students will be going. Science by its nature is global, but students don’t often think that way.”
Lincoln University senior Robin Blair, a business and Japanese major, recently returned from a voyage around the world as part of the Institute of Shepherd Studies based at the University of Pittsburgh. Blair was one of 450 college students from various campuses who circled the globe in a converted cargo ship for three months. The students completed a semester of work while the vessel was at sea.
Last year Lincoln students were sent to Belgium, Japan and Botswana. This summer students will travel to Japan, Belgium, Scotland, Ghana and Israel. Carew and other program coordinators have said that while African American students are largely interested in travel to Africa, they must also prepare for cultural differences.
“Africa remains a sort of nostalgic idea for many students of color,” Carew said. “Students of all disciplines take advantage of a program we offer called Crossroads Africa, which provides an opportunity to travel to Gambia to work alongside villagers. It is quite often a rude awakening. Sometimes our kids have the wrong idea about where they are going. Invariably, those with an open mind and an open heart are welcomed. But it isn’t a homecoming in all cases.”
That position is supported by Kianga Ford, a Georgetown University student who traveled to the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania as a 1992-1993 participant in the ISEP program. In a report on her experience, Ford wrote:
“People rarely ask me why I went to Africa. Occasionally, someone may question why exactly Tanzania. They assumed, as I’m sure that I did at some point, that I had gone to return to the `motherland’. Tanzania found me a minority of one, one `Black-American’ female student feeling looked at — the only one to my knowledge in the country.
“When I walked down the street, I was always followed by dozens of eyes and there was always the echo from people that could hazard a guess, `ah, Black-American … Black American …’ Even in a country with centuries of Arab influence and more shades of brown than you can imagine, schoolchildren followed me and chimed `half-caste.’
“In short, there was no homecoming party waiting for me. It was a beautiful country for no expectations. Everyone will not see things as I did. Some of you may feel completely embraced in your journeys home, wherever you may think they are. If there is one thing that I could say to those of you `in search of …’ — it’s please travel with an open mind. Expect nothing. Be open to anything.”
As a former exchange student in the 1960s, Carew can relate to many of the issues and concerns raised by students. However, she said many of the barriers that hampered African American students from participating persist, but it is the students themselves who are different.
“The generation of the ’60s was accustomed to change and was more adventurous,” she said. “The current generation is one that is a bit more afraid of trying untested waters. They do have fears of racism abroad, fears of not being able to speak the language, fears of being on their own if they are traveling singly. And for parents and students who are the first generation in college, it is a big step. Most have found that what they thought they should worry about such as racism, did not present a problem. The issues are often about class and about being an American. But, basically the experience is positive.”
RELATED ARTICLE: Leading Institutions Which Send African-American Students Abroad, 1993-94
Total African Institution State Americans Spelman College GA 59 Morehouse College GA 37 Univ of California System CA 27 Syracuse University NY 25 Stanford University CA 19 SUNY Buffalo NY 18 Cornell University NY 17 Univ of Minnesota-Twin Cities MN 17 Eastern Michigan University MI 15 Univ of Virginia VA 15 St. Mary's University-San Antonio TX 13 Texas A & M University TX 13 Los Angeles City College CA 12 Amherst College MA 11 Univ of Illinois-Urbana IL 11 Univ of Texas-Austin TX 11 Univ of Massachuetts-Amherst MA 10 Univ of Detroit Mercy MI 10 Carleton College MN 10 Interdenominational Theological Center GA 10 Los Angeles Trade-Technical College CA 10
SOURCE: Institute of International Education, “Open Doors” 1994-95
The United States Information Agency offers several programs that support foreign education exchanges such as grants to the College and University Affiliation Program and the Faculty Exchange Program — both are designed to strengthen ties with other nations. Others include:
* The Fulbright program, established in 1946, is an exchange program between the U.S. and 140 countries, which sends recent college graduates abroad for a year of study or research and senior scholars for a year of teaching or research.
* The Hubert Humphrey Program was created for mid-career professionals to travel abroad.
* The Edmund Muskie Program brings young adults and college students from the former Soviet Union for a year of study in American universities.
U.S. Students Studying Abroad by Race/Ethnicity, 1993-94 Race Number Percent White 63,941 83.8 Hispanic-American 3,815 5.0 Asian-American 3,815 5.0 Multiracial 2,365 3.1 African-American 2,136 2.8 Native-American 229 0.3 Total 76,302 100.0
SOURCE: Institute of International Education, “Open Doors” 1994-95
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