In my role as the Student Outreach Coordinator at Diversity Abroad, I travel to schools across the U.S., encouraging college students to go abroad. Whether it’s to study, intern, teach or attend graduate school, experiencing life in another country is always an investment in one’s future, regardless of the chosen career path in mind.
Often times, I find myself speaking with students who are exploring study abroad for the first time. As with anything new, the concept of moving to another country, whether for a summer or a year, can be pretty daunting. At the very least, I find that relating the idea of moving away from home to go to college and living on campus, can produce similar fears or hesitancies -- Will I make new friends? How will I get around? Will I have to deal with racism or stereotypes, and how will I respond to those interactions?
I’m most excited in my job when I get to engage with these students because their curiosity and interest are extremely genuine, open and honest. Exploring the field of study abroad isn’t something every student will entertain, so getting the opportunity to introduce students to the idea of going abroad, and building a globally-minded future is why I love what I do.
At the same time, I recognize how much more valuable this conversation COULD be -- were it to be held at the high school level. How many students are we failing to reach and impact because they didn’t have access to a college education, and therefore a space where they can explore these options and ask questions?
For this reason, I’m very passionate about increasing outreach efforts aimed at high school students. So much so that I focused my master’s thesis on what I called “Critical Study Abroad”. I advocated for increased global opportunities for high school youth, specifically those that are from the communities we identify as being underrepresented in study abroad: students of racial/ethnic minorities, first generation students, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, students with high financial need, etc. However, I didn’t advocate for just ANY global experience. Because my degree in International Educational Development includes a concentration in Peace Education, I argued for the incorporation of Peace Education concepts into the global experience. Basically, this means encouraging high school students NOT to fall into any “voluntourism” pitfalls, but to make meaningful connections with local communities, and to develop a globally mindful relationship with local people and resources to create a truly transformative experience for both themselves and the host community.
There are many factors that would impact a students’ desire and preparedness level for uprooting themselves from what is comfortable and familiar, to picking up and moving to another part of the world for any length of time. However, I believe that the earlier students are encouraged to explore global opportunities, the sooner they will develop a more worldly perspective and recognize how their role as global citizens will make a positive impact on the future. Check out the High School Study Abroad & GAP Year Guides as well as other High School Study Abroad Programs on the new DiversityAbroad.com.