Taking Your Education Global
Looking back over my undergraduate education, my one big regret is that I did not study abroad my junior year. I was one of those
people Cheryl D. Fields writes about in “BI Forum” (see page 28) who have all kinds of excuses about why they can’t go abroad — finances, lack of fluency in a particular foreign language, you name the excuse, I had it.
Two excuses I could not use, however, were “I don’t know where to look for study abroad opportunities” and “My home institution would never let me go.”
My alma mater, Wellesley College, provided several well-organized opportunities to go abroad, yet, I still I remained on campus.
All of the excuses, as Cheryl notes, are indeed “lame.” Everyone I’ve talked to who has studied, taught or even worked abroad talks about what a wonderful experience it was. If anything, they wish they could have stayed longer. Going abroad allows you to not only immerse yourself in the culture of the country you choose, but often provides opportunities to travel to neighboring countries, thereby experiencing several additional cultures. Many of my classmates returned to the United States practically fluent in the native language of the countries they visited, particularly those who went abroad for an entire year. And the professors I knew who taught abroad and took their families boasted that their young children also mastered the language.
I believe fear is probably the overriding factor that deters people from going abroad when given the opportunity. After all, venturing into the unfamiliar — a new country, new language and new culture — is an uncomfortable, if not downright frightening, concept for most people.
It took me almost 10 years after graduating from college to get the opportunity to go abroad, and I jumped at the chance. I attended a work-related conference in Rome a few summers ago and it was a wonderful experience for so many reasons. First, if you are uncomfortable traveling alone, you won’t be after traveling to a foreign country. I returned home with a new appreciation for another culture. I also found it truly interesting to get a firsthand view of how the United States is perceived outside of this country and was fascinated to see the influence of American culture on the rest of the world.
This edition of Black Issues In Higher Education focuses on the opportunities for faculty/administrators to go abroad and the experiences of those who’ve already done it. As you will read, many students find it difficult to go abroad. Faculty with their teaching loads and families often find it even more difficult to go for extended periods of time. Just because a trip overseas means traveling a long distance, it doesn’t mean you have to stay for long. We interviewed three professors at historically Black colleges who traveled to Greece for a one-week seminar earlier this summer. They share their experiences in “Journeying to Ancient Greece,” (see page 20).
Since the world operates increasingly on a global scale, international education is an area that we will continue to focus on in upcoming editions, especially opportunities for students to study abroad. Because African American students traditionally have been less likely to study abroad than their White counterparts, we hope that our ongoing coverage of international education will enlighten and encourage more faculty, administrators and students to pursue these educational opportunities. With a little creativity, perseverance and, most of all, the willingness to venture beyond one’s comfort zone, such opportunities are certainly within reach.
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