The following post is a cross-post with our DiversityAbroad.com blog geared toward diverse and underrepresented students and young people interested in international opportunities. On January 20, a NEW and enhanced DiversityAbroad.com will launch, and we are excited to share more opportunities with you and the students you serve!
At Diversity Abroad, we believe everyone is a prime candidate for an international experience. Whether it’s as a college student earning credits toward graduation, recent graduates moving abroad to teach English, or families seeking meaningful volunteer opportunities -- there are many ways that going abroad is beneficial, both personally and professionally.
While we have exhausted reasons why students of color, first-generation students, STEM majors, men and other underrepresented students hesitate to go abroad due to real or perceived fear and financial, family and faculty-based barriers, there are also a vast number of reasons why students should go abroad; even moreso than their peers. Here are our top 10 reasons why underrepresented and underserved students should go abroad:
1. Diversity Representation: Be Seen and Be Heard
While abroad, students or travelers become unofficial ambassadors to their home country. If students taking advantage of studying overseas are made up of only a specific population (let’s say, female English majors), then the world will have a very skewed perception of what Americans look like, or what our opinions are on topics like religion and politics. We need broader, more diverse representation that more adequately reflects the diversity of America, and this is one reason why more diverse Americans should consider international opportunities.
2. Gaining a broader, global perspective
Anytime students engage with people whose background or life experiences differ from theirs, they open themselves up to new perspectives and hopefully, more understanding and growth. Going abroad gives students the chance to challenge or strengthen their own beliefs and the beliefs of others.
3. Coalition Building Across Communities
One very powerful reason why more diverse student populations should consider an international experience would be to build coalitions across different countries and cultures. Recently, communities have marched together to express horror and fight injustice following racially driven killings in Ferguson and New York City, among other cities across the country. It is an extremely powerful statement to make, when diverse communities of all backgrounds can come together to celebrate or mourn in common experience as a collective whole.
4. Global to Local to Global Community Empowerment
When underrepresented students go abroad and begin coalition building as we mentioned above, the opportunity to continue that dialogue upon returning is a chance to empower their own communities at home. Their experiences abroad will inform how they work with others, and how they can empower their peers and themselves to make waves either locally or globally.
As students begin their professional careers, maintaining contact with the people they meet abroad is absolutely important to helping build a network of friends and professionals supporting their work. Social media makes it easier than ever to keep in touch with people from all around the world, and it’s especially meaningful to establish a lasting connection to those who have shared as unique an experience as living overseas.
6. Cross-cultural skills and sensitivity building
Living and studying among both locals and peers from a variety of backgrounds gives students the opportunity to hone their cross-cultural skills. Building this level of awareness and sensitivity is incredibly important to achieve coalition building, networking and community empowerment as we previously mentioned.
7. Leaving your comfort zone behind
Living in a different country with different customs and cultures is extremely valuable because of what students can gain by stepping outside their comfort zone. While it can be frightening to try something new, the flexibility and willingness to experience something so different exhibits an openness to try new things. We all know that fear can be a dangerous and discriminatory practice, but leaving the U.S. exhibits a fearlessness that not everyone experiences.
8. Gaining Independence
For many students of racial or ethnic minority backgrounds, it’s not uncommon to feel guilty leaving family behind to go abroad. But this skill will be very critical because it can be a stepping stone towards a direction that allows students to feel more comfortable taking on bigger and greater responsibilities.
9. Stand out from others
Because not enough diverse students are going abroad, their presence in another country carries more weight to it than they might think. Whether students continue to pursue opportunities overseas, or settle back into life in the U.S., their overseas experience sets them apart from others. The endless learning and growth you gain from studying abroad makes you stand out to future employers or colleagues, and this is extremely valuable.
Going abroad is FUN, and no one should deny themselves the opportunity to experience new places, make new friends, and explore uncharted territory.
So we encourage all students to pursue those international experiences! And don’t forget that DiversityAbroad.com is here to help answer all your questions!