Going Global: Traditionally, the percentage of African American students who studied abroad has been low; however, university officials are looking into ways to increase those numbers.
By Linda Meggett Brown
International study abroad programs aren’t new but they are beginning to take off at historically Black colleges and universities. The challenge for these institutions is to make such programs appealing and affordable to attract more African American students. Globalization is the buzzword for the new millennium and institutions are moving toward international programs to enhance the education of African American students.
“We’re way behind where we should be for many reasons, and that’s been the case nationwide,” says Dr. Kenoye Eke, dean of academic affairs at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. “Minority students in general have been more reluctant to travel abroad.”
Traditionally, international travel and study haven’t been part of the culture for most students of color. With increased resources, however, more students likely would take advantage of study abroad opportunities.
“It must be made part of the vocabulary for our students at majority institutions as well as HBCUs,” Eke says. “Most people think it’s not obtainable. Most people think it’s what rich White girls do in their junior year.
“The trick is to give them (all minority students) what they need in terms of scholarships to make it more obtainable,” he says.
Black institutions are moving into the international arena but progress has been slow, Eke says. They’re getting in at a time when the nation is scaling back in terms of resources and funding with budget cuts.
Kentucky State recently established a formal international program with an office of global education. When it comes to international education, the university has been mostly on the receiving end, enrolling hundreds of foreign students, primarily from the Caribbean or Latin America.
“The problem has been with our students,” Eke says. “We haven’t had the numbers we’d like to see. We realize that it works only when students have resources, so the university has committed to increasing its resources. … We believe we’ll see some results,” he says.
Olasope O. Oyelaran, associate professor of English and foreign languages and director of International Programs at Winston-Salem State University, says the school is new to the study abroad program business and is still trying to find the formula that’s right for it.
Working within the University of North Carolina system exchange program last year, Winston-Salem State sent two students to Russia and one student each to Mexico and Australia. In addition, three students went to Ghana, Australia and Finland. Next fall the school likely will have six more students go abroad, Oyelaran says.
Interest on the Rise
Overall, interest in study abroad is on the rise among students nationwide, increasing about 30 percent during the past year despite the Sept. 11 tragedy, Oyelaran says.
“I think most of the credit for the increase goes to students who have gone abroad and come back to share their experience with their friends and classmates,” Oyelaran says.
Winston-Salem State will continue to use the UNC system until its own program is fully implemented.
“Our students are underrepresented. It’s all about attitude,” Oyelaran says. “People want to stay home under mother. Fear of the unknown is common. … Some think it’s for them (White people), not for us. That’s why it makes a difference to have students who can share their experience.”
It’s also important to send students to areas where they will have the best cultural and psychological experience. Students need to visit countries that make them feel comfortable. But many of those countries do not have formal exchange agreements; therefore, most institutions offer study abroad programs in places such as Asia, Latin America and Europe. There aren’t enough formal programs in less developed countries and those countries don’t have the resources to provide for students when they get there, Oyelaran says.
“We need to find ways to subsidize these trips so students don’t have to worry about creating debt. Most public schools don’t have the same funding sources as private schools,” Oyelaran adds.
Florida A&M University graduate Ernest White II agrees that more must be done to entice students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities.
White, who spent last summer in the Dominican Republic teaching English, says there is a lot of apathy among students. Many students use the excuse that they don’t have time, it’s irrelevant to their major and/or view it as an extracurricular activity.
“I don’t think enough Blacks go abroad. I’ve done a couple of trips abroad,” he says. “We’re doing ourselves a disservice by not participating.”
White took out a student loan to spend the summer of 2001 in the Dominican Republic before he graduated. “For some people, cost can be prohibitive, which is discouraging,” he says.
Seeking Out Support
Evelyn Hamilton, a senior at Dillard University, spent her junior year in 2000-2001 in London on a Luard Scholarship, which provides travel and full support during a student’s junior year abroad at a British university. The scholarship is given annually to three students from HBCUs. During the summer, Hamilton spent three weeks in Belgium learning French and a month in China. Both trips also were funded by scholarships.
“I’ve always wanted to study abroad. I took French in junior high school, and there were opportunities to travel in high school but I couldn’t afford to go. I knew when I came to college I would look for a way to go abroad,” Hamilton says. “I’m a success story as far as my experience abroad. London became my home away from home.” She lived on campus at Kings College while attending classes there.
Students who seek out these scholarship programs are finding opportunities to go abroad, White says, adding that if schools promoted programs, broadened the range of courses and provided more financial assistance, more students of color would express an interest in participating.
Simone Symonette, a Bethune-Cookman College senior majoring in international studies, completed a semester in the Dominican Republic by participating in the Florida A&M program. It was less than the cost of tuition.
FAMU is part of a 14-member college consortium, which encourages more students and faculty to travel abroad, fostering interest among students at schools without study abroad programs.
“I actually learned a new language while I was there. When you speak the language, you blend in better,” she says. “I want to take another trip abroad. I want to go to Africa. I would recommend it to any student. It’s an experience African American students need to have, especially in a Third World country,” Symonette says.
Taking 16 credit hours while in the Dominican Republic, Symonette’s graduation will be delayed a semester, but says the experience was worth it.
“I learned more there through cultural experiences than I would have learned here in a year,” she says.
Dr. Eva Wanton, associate vice president of academic affairs at FAMU, says the university is striving to be at the forefront in sending more students abroad for a semester, summer or a year.
And instead of traveling to Fort Lauderdale or Daytona Beach for spring break FAMU students are seeking junkets to the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico, getting an international experience while staying relatively close to home.
The study abroad center in the Dominican Republic is a drawing card because it’s easy to transfer credits. London, China and Africa also are popular study abroad destinations.
But it’s more than just campuses and coffee houses.
“Our students have to visit an orphanage, refugee camp or poor neighborhood for community service while abroad. It’s not all fun and games,” Wanton says.
Although some students are taking advantage, on a broad scale the interest to study abroad is still low, Wanton says.
In addition to the 14-college consortium, FAMU also is involved in a program that allows its students to participate in Florida State University’s study abroad program. It allows students additional options for scholarships and expands the choices for study abroad in Europe, Asian and African countries that are developed.
Financial aid can be used in most cases to pay for study abroad programs. Depending on the study abroad destination, the cost can be either higher or lower than the regular cost of the home campuses’ tuition. Wanton says some parents raise funds through their church and community to help subsidize the funds not covered by tuition.
As for other reasons some students don’t study abroad, “Sometimes students don’t want to interrupt the flow of education and relationships with their cohorts,” Wanton says. “Students are very comfortable and some have a fear of flying.”
An International Institution
Meanwhile, historically Black Dillard University is working to provide its students and faculty with international opportunities. Two years ago its president and provost began the campaign to make the school an international institution. International studies have been incorporated into every phase of the academic divisions.
Before April 2000, approximately 10 Dillard students participated in study abroad programs. This year 50 to 60 students participated. That’s significant when you consider enrollment is 2,000 students, says Dr. Anthony Pinder, associate dean of Global Studies and director for the International Center for Economic Freedom at Dillard University in New Orleans. The goal is for 50 percent of Dillard’s students to travel abroad before graduation. Pinder’s recruitment begins with the freshman class.
“We want all of our students to have an international experience,” Pinder says. “We’ve incorporated study abroad into every aspect of education here.
“We have faculty who don’t have international experience,” he adds. “About three-fourths don’t have passports. We must find ways to entice faculty to travel and visit other countries.”
Pinder says college administrators must work harder to move Black students into the international arena, adding that in many cases international programs are haphazardly put together.
“Many scholarships are out there and our students are not applying,” Pinder says. “My colleagues at other schools don’t know and aren’t aware of programs out there. This is not only an HBCU issue. A lot of colleges don’t have programs and don’t belong to organizations.”
Dillard’s incorporation of international studies into every aspect of the university, including encouraging faculty travel abroad, has paid off. More Dillard students are studying abroad.
The major hindrance for students is information, Pinder concludes. “We have to market the programs and articulate the benefits of studying abroad instead of using ‘it’s global, it’s a new millennium,’ the broad clichés. We want our kids to be competitive, whether on majority campuses or HBCUs,” Pinder says.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com