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A Lesson Plan to Improve Minority Study Abroad Participation

The Black community needs to be more proactive about encouraging young African-Americans to take an interest in international education opportunities, such as study abroad.

I have argued that point among my colleagues in international education and in articles, including a previous column for this publication. In doing so, I join others like Dr. Johnnetta Cole, former president of Spelman and Bennett colleges; Connie Perdreau, former director of education abroad at Ohio University; and Karen Jenkins, past president of Brethren Colleges Abroad, in emphasizing the importance of international education for people of color. Although these individuals have been vocal about this, I believe the movement to increase the numbers of U.S. minorities studying abroad is moving at a snail’s pace.

The proof is in the numbers, which most international educators are well aware of.

According to the latest numbers from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and their “Open Doors” 2006 report, the percentage of Black American university students who studied abroad in the 2004-05 academic year was only 3.5 percent of the total number. During the 1993-94 school year, the first academic period of that report, the number of Black Americans reportedly studying abroad was 2.8 percent of the total study abroad population; not much of a change, I would say. The Hispanic numbers have not really changed; they accounted for 5 percent of U.S. study abroad students in 1993-94, and in 2004-05 their participation rose to 5.6 percent.

As an American-born student at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, I travel frequently between the United States and South Africa and other African countries, often in the company of American students who are giddy about their experiences in Africa. I am, quite frankly, sick of not seeing African-Americans among these groups. I applaud these groups of mostly White students for studying abroad, wish them well, and hope they continue their quests for adventure and knowledge of other countries. However, I am disappointed with my own community, the African-American community. I am disappointed that there are only one or two, if that many, Black faces in these groups of 20–25 American students heading to or from a study or volunteer abroad experience. I can count on one hand the number of non-White American faces I have seen on nearly 12 plane trips that I’ve taken over the past two and a half years of international travel.

This is just one illustration of the problem that most international educators know exists. We all know that we need to become even more serious and proactive about increasing underrepresented youth participation in international education programs. The question then is, how do we do this?

I propose a four-step process, which I call the PEPP Program.

PEPP stands for: Promote, Encourage, Prepare and Provide, and it is imperative that it be applied early on in the education process.

• First, we must promote the value of international education and global knowledge to our young people and those around them, at all stages of their education.

• Second, we must encourage them, and those concerned with their education, to take an interest in international education.

• Third, we must prepare them for international travel, through activities and information about other countries/cultures, so that they will actually want to travel abroad at some point.

• And finally, we must provide concrete, relevant and cost-effective programs, regardless of whether they run for two weeks, a quarter, a semester or an academic year.

Parents, educators and advocates must start this PEPP process early on. In working with younger people, we begin to try to change their attitudes about international issues and international travel. In doing so, we work to instill in them a sense of the value and importance of an international perspective no matter what their personal, professional or social interests may be. Employing a PEPP process could help us formulate concrete and sustainable plans that would help us take that 3.5 percent of Black American students studying abroad, and expand it to something we can all be proud of.

We should applaud those that are already on board with PEPP in their own way, for working to improve the representation and diversity of youth participating in international education programs. And may we all jump on board and do our part to continually address this problem.

— Carlton E. McLellan is an international education consultant and the Founder and President of Majority Youth International. He is also a researcher currently completing his Ph.D. in international education policy from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and conducting independent research on a book to highlight the lives of Black American ambassadors.

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