A World-Class Education
Rewards abound for those who dare to teach or study abroad.
By Robin V. Smiles
When information about Brethren Colleges Abroad’s international seminars for faculty and administrators came across Dr. Amee Carmines’ desk, she glanced at it quickly and put it aside. Caught in the middle of a hectic semester advising senior English majors and managing a stack of senior theses on her desk, she could not very well imagine being thousands of miles away, walking among the ancient ruins of historic Greece. In fact, had it not been for the urging of one of her colleagues, she might have missed out on what she describes as a wonderful opportunity (see sidebar, page 20).
In addition to her trip to Greece, Carmines, a professor of English at Hampton University, has traveled abroad extensively. She has been to Ethiopia and Eritrea in Northeast Africa and traveled throughout Europe. Carmines says she always tries to bring her international experience into the classroom at the historically Black college in Virginia. Her international experience is particularly appropriate to her world literature class, where she tries to incorporate a historical context by linking history to reality.
“To say that I’ve walked there or I’ve seen that … that means something to the students,” she says. And when she talks about the places she has been, the responses from students are always positive.
Despite her cosmopolitan outlook, Carmines does admit that travel becomes more challenging the longer she teaches. As professors get more involved in preparing for classes, they get caught in a routine that is hard to break, says Carmines. Still, she says, it is important to step outside of that pattern.
“As a professor, I have to tell myself to take a risk. Particularly since I am constantly telling my students they have to try something new.”
Unfortunately, African American students,
faculty and administrators are not among the majority of those trying something new and taking advantage of overseas teaching or studying opportunities. According to Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange: 1999-2000, published by the Institute of International Education, African American students comprised only 3.3 percent of the U.S. study abroad students during the 1998-1999 academic year — down from 3.8 percent the previous year and 3.5 percent the year before that. As well, historically Black colleges and universities do not appear among the report’s rankings of the top institutions that participate in study abroad programs (see accompanying charts.)
With the heightened importance of global diplomacy in the United States and the growing economic impact of foreign study, U.S. colleges and universities overall are recognizing the need to increase their efforts to internationalize their campuses. According to Open Doors, foreign students and their dependents contributed more than $12.3 billion to the U.S. economy during the 1999-2000 academic year. As well, during the same year, foreign students comprised approximately 3.8 percent of total enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities — a 4.8 percent increase from the previous year.
Although the study abroad experience is traditionally associated with students, it is faculty and administrators who are encouraging students to study abroad, accompanying students on international seminars and establishing relationships with host universities. Overall, they are key to fostering an institution’s commitment to international education and exchange. And as most would agree, they are more likely to encourage students to study abroad if they have done so themselves.
“Interest in international education grows from people’s international experience,” says Dr. Kenoye K. Eke, vice president for academic affairs and professor of political science at Kentucky State University. When trying to explain the low number of minority faculty and administrators among those who study or teach abroad, Eke says, “Look at the pipeline. People start looking at international education while in college, and very few minority students go abroad.” Consequently, when they become faculty or administrators, the interest or desire is not there.
Dr. Connie Perdreau agrees. “Although a great many Black faculty and administrators are very supportive of these types of (international exchange) programs, they are more likely to do this if they have done some study abroad,” says Perdreau, director of the office of education abroad at Ohio University and a former president of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
In addition to the lack of a personal desire to go abroad, resources and institutional support often keep many from pursuing such opportunities, say both Eke and Perdreau. By the term “institutional support,” Perdreau refers not just to financial means but also to providing assistance with planning and being willing to give a faculty member time to establish a program or travel with the students.
The issue is heightened at smaller institutions and HBCUs in particular where financial resources are often scarce and it is often harder for core faculty to be relieved of their teaching and administrative commitments.
Dr. Cary Wintz, history professor and chairman of the department of history, geography and economics at Texas Southern University, says the historically Black university in Houston has been encouraging and supportive each time he has approached them for assistance with going abroad. However, like many African American institutions, there is not a procedure or process in place to encourage the staff to go abroad. Most fellowships do not provide stipends above the salary of a junior faculty member, and there is often nothing in place for the institution to supplement their pay, he says. “Down the street at the University of Houston — they have another process in place,” he says.
Still, some HBCUs are working to broaden the international experience of their staffs and find alternatives to internationalize their campuses.
Most of the administrators and approximately 40 percent of the faculty at Tougaloo College have experience with international educational exchange, says Dr. Artee Young, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Our piece is not so much to travel abroad and experience it, but also to contribute in some way,” says Young.
The university is currently sharing videotape from international travel with a local high school; thereby, not only enhancing the campus community but the surrounding community as well.
Kentucky State University has a major interest in making sure that faculty have the international opportunities that will make them better teachers, says Eke. The university sent several faculty members to workshops abroad last year and plans to do the same this year. As with Tougaloo, their efforts are not solely on study abroad.
“Our goal is to increase the movement of our faculty — not only send faculty abroad but to bring international faculty to our campus,” says Eke.
Currently, scholars from Nigeria and Saudi Arabia are teaching at the school. As well, the university has established relationships with schools in those countries as well as Hong Kong and other parts of Africa and Asia.
Traditionally, HBCUs have welcomed foreign scholars to their campuses. And although the institutions do not appear on Open Doors’ rankings of the top institutions that send U.S. students abroad, they do appear among those institutions that host foreign students. Morehouse College, an HBCU in Atlanta, is one of the top 40 baccalaureate institutions with foreign student enrollment. And Howard University in Washington is designated as an institution with 1,000 or more foreign students.
Although the presence of foreign scholars on any campus is an important component of an international education, according to those who have spent time studying outside the United States, the experience offers a unique set of benefits.
Those who study or teach abroad find it easier to internationalize the curriculum they teach in the United States, says Perdreau. The result is a chance to not only expand their horizons but those of their students as well.
“We will never get 100 percent of the students abroad, but the whole idea of being open, receptive (and) knowledgeable about other cultures can be taught in the classroom,” she says.
International opportunities allow faculty to learn about best practices around the world, says Eke, adding that it gives them a chance to improve what they do at the university. It also offers faculty a chance to learn about the challenges others face, and often witness how privileged they are, he says.
For many, the experience brings with it personal and cultural rewards as well. Perdreau speaks of the benefits of witnessing international ties with another culture. For example, she was quite surprised when she went to Europe and saw that they ate what Americans call chitterlings.
The experience becomes even more rewarding when one is able to see the roots of one’s culture in another country, she says. Particularly for African Americans going to Africa, it “enhances the knowledge of your own culture.”
Eke also speaks of the unique cultural benefits of expanding one’s travel to places besides the more traditional European destinations. “For White faculty, it gives them an opportunity to see non-Whites in positions of leadership and to see themselves as the minority. … For minority faculty, the case is reversed. They can see where they are the majority instead of spending a lifetime in a minority status.” The result is a total appreciation of diversity, he says.
Short and Sweet
Faculty and administrators do not have to rely solely on their institutions to provide the resources and support for international travel. As well, they do not have to devote an entire semester or year to foreign study. Opportunities do exist for shorter excursions — particularly in the summer, when it is easier for faculty to travel.
Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA), based in North Manchester, Ind., is one of several organizations that offer one- to two-week international seminars for faculty and administrators. BCA began the program two years ago as part of their strategic plan to offer services to campuses to help them internationalize, says Karen Jenkins, president of the organization. The seminars are targeted for those with little to no international experience and are designed to offer them a relaxing but educational experience, says Jenkins.
“We hope they will come back to campus enthusiastic about the value of an international education and in turn will work on the campus to undertake a number of international activities . . . such as attracting international scholars or developing course content that has an international perspective,” says Jenkins.
BCA also has made it a priority to attract minority faculty to its seminars. “Diversity is important to BCA,” says Jenkins. Four HBCU faculty members participated in BCA’s seminar to Greece in June — the result of Jenkins and another BCA staff person attending an HBCU faculty networking conference last year. At the conference, BCA raffled off fellowship support for its seminars.
The Council on International Educational Exchange, a nonprofit organization based in New York, began offering one- to twoweek faculty seminars in 1990. Over the past decade, they have run more than 100 seminars in more than 28 different countries, including Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Haiti, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
In 1997, the organization launched a joint initiative with the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) to broaden the participation in international education at minority-serving institutions. With funding from ExxonMobil, the program has provided fellowships for a total of 31 faculty from NAFEO institutions to attend the seminar series. In order to qualify for the grant, applicants must be full-time faculty or administrators from a NAFEO-member institution.
Wintz, of Texas Southern, took advantage of the Mobil Faculty Fellowship in 1998 and attended the council’s seminar in Ghana. He says he can not speak highly enough of the experience and the Mobil foundation for making it economically possible for him to go. His main interest in attending was to expand the international programs at the university when he returned. The result was the creation of a summer session in East Africa for students.
An Attainable Dream
The best-known international education opportunity for academics is the coveted Fulbright award. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Scholar Program sends more than 800 U.S. scholars abroad each year and awards nearly 800 grants each year to foreign scholars to come to the United States. Even though it is the best-known program, minorities are not largely represented among the U.S. awardees. Of the 1999-2000 group of U.S. Fulbright scholars only about 5 percent were African American.
Judy Pehrson, director of external relations for the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, the organization that manages the Fulbright program, says the numbers are most likely higher since only 60 percent of the group filled out the separate form which asked for racial/ethnic background. Still, she says the organization is currently working to attract a more diverse applicant pool by reaching out to minority-serving institutions as well as community colleges.
Pehrson attributes the low amount of minority Fulbright scholars to the myth that the grant is inaccessible and that you have to be at a Harvard, Yale or Princeton. “It is prestigious and you have to be qualified, but it is not an unattainable dream,” says Pehrson.
Another barrier is the myth that you have to be fluent in a language. According to Pehrson, however, most of the organization’s lecturing awards are in English, and 80 percent of the awards are lecturing awards.
Dr. Claire Andrade-Watkins, associate professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College in Boston, was a 1995-1996 Fulbright scholar in Cape Verde, a group of small islands off the coast of West Africa. She describes the experience as a high point of her life.
“It is hard to get one and when you do, you feel good,” she says. It also comes with the kind of stipend to travel and study comfortably with your family, she adds, which offered her peace of mind as a single parent at the time.
Andrade-Watkins’ international experience extends back to her doctoral studies 20 years ago at Boston University. As an Africanist, overseas travel and exchange was inherent in the nature of her research. She points to research interest as one of the reasons there are fewer minority Fulbright scholars.
“Most African American scholars are concentrated in the traditional social sciences, where international activity is not inherent,” she says. “To pursue the Fulbright would require them to modify their research interest or go into a different field.”
Wintz agrees. “For a lot of African American institutions, the focus has been on social science type issues and resolving issues in the U.S. Much of the research (African American) scholars have dealt with has been on civil rights, racism, African American history and literature.” There has been a tendency to think it better to “clean up the back yard before going out into the world,” he adds.
And both Andrade-Watkins and Wintz point to the political perception of what the Fulbright represents as a contributing factor to the lack of diversity among awardees. Traditionally, it has been perceived as “mainstream, White academic, old guard,” says Andrade-Watkins.
Similarly, there is a tendency among HBCU faculty to believe that they are not going to get this type of grant, says Wintz.
Both, however, say things are changing. The award is becoming more user-friendly, says Andrade-Watkins. And according to Wintz, younger minority students who have been trained in the mainstream are helping to reverse history.
Reversing history is what those who preach the importance of an international education are counting on to happen. And the rewards of more faculty, administrators and students broadening their international horizons reach beyond individual campuses and into worldly affairs.
“It is hard to explain to those who have not been abroad. You think differently, you act differently. You have greater awareness of humanity,” says Perdreau. “And that is the best way to have world peace — to see each other’s
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com