The White House, Studying Abroad, and Diversity
My travels started long before I could fully comprehend the awesome that my solo traveling mom was before I was born. I’ve traveled since I was a baby because I come from a family of immigrants who understood that to learn more and seek out better opportunities they needed to travel.
I traveled throughout my entire life for holidays, for moves, to study, in search of myself, in search of careers, and in search of a home. It wasn’t till later that travel became more of a luxury (to travel for vacation, but not necessarily to see family) and now for work, as a freelance travel writer and blogger.
And though I did study abroad and even sometimes lived in family friends’ houses to do so, my family would have never thought that this practice, this lifestyle they had for me and my siblings, was one that they would find support in from the US government. To them, those kids whose parents send them to study in Europe? Yeah, those kids were white and from wealthy families. So, a Latina girl of color from a working class immigrant family need not even think to apply. And I didn’t. But I should have been able to. Though these were not messages we ever received at my low-income public school either.
The thing is, the demographics of who is studying abroad hasn’t really changed much since I was a kid. This from the NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisers):
Now, as a mother of three, I think about wanting my own children to study abroad because that experience for me helped not only in my language skills, but also in developing a cultural sensibility, awareness, and perspective that you can only really get from life overseas.
Do research for study abroad programs and you will come across endless universities that offer scholarships and programs for the same, some at a cost. Living in NYC and NJ, I can tell you that there are many public schools that offer study abroad programs for their high school students, but these are often offered in more affluent communities, and also require a bit of a financial investment.
The number of students studying abroad still represents just about 1 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States and under 10 percent of U.S. graduates.
It doesn’t surprise me that the amount minority students and volunteers in these programs is low. Look at what schools charge for these opportunities. Look at the number of minority students who make it to college, or the disproportionate number of minority students struggling in high school, and it is clear that they are neither being reached, nor considered, let alone inspired to view the world beyond their daily struggles and hardships.
Because of this, I am so very excited to have been invited to the White House for a first ever Travel Blogger Summit to highlight U.S. Government initiatives and discuss strategies for encouraging American students to study, volunteer, and work abroad. I will be among 100 top travel bloggers and digital media professionals and will be listening very attentively to the ideas being proposed for what they have hoped will “increase the number and diversity of young people participating in educational, cultural, and professional experiences internationally.” Whatever is being done to truly diversify and encourage students (and their families) to take on these opportunities, I want to learn about it.
In my professional experience alone, there are so many benefits to having had the opportunity to learn in other classrooms, reading from different text books, experience everyday cultural practices in other homes, and interacting with other people. Sure, a vacation can give you some of that, but never to the extent that studying abroad can.
My hope from this trip is to come back with tips and information that can help you and/or your child to pursue these experiences for themselves. Because these aren’t experiences and opportunities that should only be available to a select few. As our world changes and grows, we should all have the opportunity to change, grow, and succeed with it.
Hopefully, I can bring back valuable information to help you and your family do just that.
Stay tuned for more.