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Breaking Down the Mental Barriers

Breaking Down the Mental Barriers

Last August we dedicated an entire edition to international education. We received quite a bit of feedback from readers who were interested in study abroad programs and the idea of providing international experiences for students of color.
Then came Sept. 11 a month later. The phones in the offices of study abroad programs did not stop ringing. Parents and students, but mostly parents, were concerned about their children and relatives who were already studying abroad or considering it. However, after things calmed down a bit, the number of students interested in studying abroad dramatically increased. In fact, many colleges and universities have received record numbers of applications from students interested in studying abroad.
And although the percentage of students studying abroad has increased overall, the numbers of African American students is still fairly low — 3.5 percent, the lowest among all minority groups with the exception of American Indians (see page 43 for ethnic breakdown). There are many reasons the participation rates among African American students are low — money, lack of awareness, etc. It’s my sense, however, that perception is the main barrier — the perception that studying abroad is too expensive, too difficult to coordinate and too “foreign.” As African Americans, many of us struggle with our own issues of feeling comfortable right in this country where most of us were born. Therefore, I can imagine that for some, the thought of living abroad in a foreign country where we don’t even speak the native language is one that makes us even more uncomfortable.
But we must get beyond the mental barriers stopping us from taking our educational experiences international. It is somewhat ironic that as we discuss the traditionally low numbers of Black students that study abroad, we have two African American leaders in the White House at the forefront of strategizing this country’s “war on terror” — Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. If seeing Secretary of State Powell and National Security Adviser Rice on the news every night doesn’t make Black students want to at least investigate international opportunities, I’m not sure what will. 
When they were college students, it’s very likely that neither Powell nor Rice anticipated that they would be advising presidents on national and international security issues, strategizing a war on terrorism, and trying to negotiate peace in a region of the world that has been fighting for decades. They are both perfect examples of the limitless possibilities that await today’s students, and having international experience can only be an asset.
In this edition of Black Issues, the stories cover a range of international focused articles, from the state of study abroad programs at historically Black colleges and universities to an article about Afro-Mestizos in Mexico.
Recently much of this country’s focus has been on the situation in the Middle East. And it appears as though everyone has chosen a side — pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. However, most Americans are not able to accurately articulate the root cause of the fighting between the two groups.
In BI Forum’s “A Trail of Lost Opportunities,” Diana Abouali, a doctoral student in history and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, provides a historical context for the Middle East conflict. In a Gallup Poll of the Islamic World taken earlier this year, of the nine Arab/Islamic countries surveyed, all but two feel that Western nations do not have much interest in improving relations between the West and the Arab/Islamic world. In addition, they gave President Bush low marks and overall held negative views of the United States.
Yes, that’s just one region of the world, but there’s so much we don’t know about other countries, and a lot they do not know about Americans other than what they see on TV. We must keep in mind that exchange programs benefit not only the American student studying abroad but also educates those that they come in contact with in the host country as well.  

Hilary Hurd

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