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Losing (or Gaining?) My Religion

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 21, 2018

It is safe to wager that most students studying abroad in recent, current or future years are not familiar with the 1991 R.E.M. song referenced in the title of this article. While the song's lyrics are not actually about losing one's religion (in fact, it is a southern saying akin to 'being at the end of one's rope'), like all good art – it can be about anything you want it to be about. Appropriately, the song's lyrics (such as “...life is bigger… than you, and you are not me…”) can be relevant and significant to the religious identity experience many students go through while studying abroad.

 

For many people, religion is an invisible identity, unless they choose to wear clear religious symbols or religious dress. Those who don't 'show' their identity, can also choose whether to 'out' themselves as religious (or as secular, if they are in a religious society). The choice to visibly identify as religious is just one choice that many people can make regarding identity throughout their lives. It can be a challenging decision due to anticipated perceptions about the reaction from others – will my identity be disrespected? Will I be ridiculed for believing, or not believing, in a higher power?  Is my religious practice legal in my current location? For others, it is not so much a concern, but more that they consider religion a private or personal matter and not something they need or want to share with others.


Religious Identity in Study Abroad

While studying abroad, students are faced with establishing support networks in a new environment that can feel far from the comforts of home. This can place students who want to explore a religion in a situation they haven’t experienced before – do they out themselves and risk being, at best, acknowledged as "the (non)religious one", or at worst, ridiculed as "the (non)believer"? This question echoes even stronger for students coming from a country where they were a religious majority, and are studying abroad in a country where they are a religious minority - such as Christian American students studying in a predominantly Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist country. Being in the religious minority abroad raises questions about accessibility to religious services and resources, personal safety, and more. Being perceived or treated as a "minority" while abroad can be a valuable learning opportunity for students who may have no prior experience being "othered" at home. Although this is a unique experience for students to better understand the everyday challenges of their peers from minority or underrepresented communities, it can still be a jarring experience for students who have never experienced a minority status before. Many of these experiences were indicated on a recent student survey distributed by Diversity Abroad and members of the Diversity Network Religious Identity Task Force. An American Christian student who studied abroad in a diverse religious community in South Africa reflected on her time as a religious minority stating: “[studying abroad there was] a learning and humbling curve for me to realise that I ought to also be tolerant to other people's religions and not feel so superior and conceited.”


Exposure of religious identity is also a critical issue for students with other visible identities, and raises the topic of intersectionality and legitimacy of dual identities. Due to the way that some religious leaders treat those who identify as LGBTQ, there are members of the queer community that are not comfortable around religion. Does this mean that an LGBTQ observant Muslim will be unwanted in an LGBTQ group due to their religious beliefs? There are also implications for race and ethnicity. In Israel it is not uncommon for a person of color to be Jewish. However, outside of Israel, Judaism is not a religion often associated with a person of color. Will that person not be believed to be Jewish, simply because of the color of their skin? Additionally, students may find that their ethnicity means that their host culture assumes they practice a certain religion. A Christian student studying abroad in India reported,I am Indian by heritage, so when I went abroad many people assumed I was Hindu since majority of Indians are.”


Supporting Students in the Religious Minority                                                                                                         

These are not easy questions, and often require bravery from the student to insist on the legitimacy of their intersectional identity. In regard to "outing" one's self as non-religious/religious, it is important to keep personal safety in mind and the specific country the student is in. Sometimes, people are curious about those that are different than they are and other times, they may be afraid of those that are different than they are. Open communication about faith, or lack of faith, is extremely conducive to learning about the other, building bridges and dismantling fears. Additionally, students going to a country where religion is a dominant and highly visible part of the host culture may need advice on how to interact with that aspect of society while abroad. A Christian student who studied in Oman stated, “I felt comfortable with what I am (Christian), but I was more worried on how to show I do not judge religion of any sort and I am open minded, while being in the Middle East.”

 

The same is true about becoming a religious minority while studying abroad. No one should be afraid to ask about finding resources and a religious community. Religious minority students will often find a desire to support their religious needs because they are a religious minority – as opposed to denying them access to resources because of that.

 

Religious students also need to be aware that they might be held up as an example for their entire religion, and might be called out if they defy the religious stereotype. For example, a Christian student that identified as religious might be reminded by their roommates not to forget to go to church on Sunday – even if the Christian student wasn't planning on going. A Jewish student might be called out for eating pork, and a Muslim student might not be invited to a pub crawl because their peers might assume that they don't drink alcohol or don’t want to be in an environment that serves it. It's important also to acknowledge Atheist students, who might be criticized for any portrayal of a religious belief, whether intentional or not.


Recommendations                                             

Ultimately, these decisions are personal, and are up to each student. Individual factors also play a part and include the specific country's religion and climate, the student's comfort and level of self-confidence, and more. It is necessary for study abroad advisors to feel comfortable asking students if religious identity is a consideration for their study abroad experience; if students don’t feel comfortable talking about it, they can opt out of the discussion (but at least the responsibility of bringing it up won’t be on them). Staff at the hosting institutions should go out of their way to address this issue by normalizing the topic of religion, making sure that all advisors have a general familiarity with religious identities, and designating a staff member who will help connect students to the relevant resources in their host community. Students should feel comfortable asking all staff, from advisors at their home universities to their host institutions abroad, about resources for their religious identity. The comfort of discussing religion can be created by providing resources for students (that advisors can present to them without having in depth familiarity of specific identities), of alumni discussing their experiences abroad in relation to their identity - blogs, vlogs, interviews, or even a list of alumni who are willing to be contacted by prospective students. We should all remember that making religious identity visible or invisible is a choice that everyone can make, that intersectionality of other identities with religious identity is not only legitimate but common, and that religious journeys are full of ups and downs (not to mention lefts and rights). It is a valuable experience for students to go through the processes of losing, or gaining, their religions while studying abroad.


Tags:  religion 

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Student Athletes Abroad: Recognizing Intersectionality

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 7, 2018

Contributed by: 2017-2018 Diversity Abroad Student Athletes Task Force members:
Lou Berends - Syracuse University; Susie Duke - Grinnell College    

The barriers between student athletes and participation in a global experience are as diverse as the population that forms this group. With an extreme level of intersectionality, “the idea that the crossing of multiple forms of oppression with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality produces distinct sets of perspectives and consequences among individuals” (Melton & Cunningham, 2012, p. 46), international educators must acknowledge that intercollegiate sports’ participants face extremely complex challenges. In the work to increase access to global programming, a first step to facilitating the student athlete experience abroad seems to be that important element of simply recognizing those intersecting identities.

Student athletes may tend to object to an off campus experience out of the logic that commonly reverberates the locker room or playing field which is “I don’t have time.” The truth is these students truly are in training for such large blocks of time each week that it could equate to much more than a part-time job. The disparate enrollment in international programming between student athletes and their non-athlete peers could be explained straightforwardly by a scarcity of time. However, by taking a deeper look at the concept of intersectionality within the athletic identity, international education professionals may be able to better advise one-on-one and advocate for more comprehensive short-term, faculty led, and co-curricular programs that may better serve the needs of this student group.

Notwithstanding the importance of personal decision-making of student-athletes and whether or not to study abroad, the significance of institutional context is also critically important. To be sure, the "culture" of a college or university shapes the expectations of student-athletes, but perhaps just as important, the attitudes and perceptions of coaches are vital regarding study abroad opportunities. Whether an institution is Division I, II, III, or even for the student playing club-level sports, this will certainly have an external influence on the topic of education abroad; however, the willingness of coaches, and the Athletic Director(s) in particular, shape the vision and expectations of student-athletes and how study abroad fits (or does not fit) into these perspectives. Navigating these issues and the stakeholders involved takes time, patience and a willingness to build consensus between international education professionals and athletic personnel. 

By first considering alternatives outside of the traditional semester or year overseas, educators can offer a menu of viable short-term programs that are as legitimate academically, when properly facilitated, as longer stints abroad. Plus, learning that takes place during these shorter programs can be enhanced when preceded by preparatory and/or post-program class time on-campus. One example could be a Division I school model of adding an academic component to an NCAA “foreign tour” where, perhaps, a coach partners with a faculty member to create a one-credit short course prerequisite pertaining directly to the content that will take place abroad. The on-campus component could happen during the latter part of the first semester and then the team travel could occur during January—to be in compliance with NCAA bylaws, the foreign tour team travel must take place during a period of academic recess. On the smaller school scale, a Division III coach who may also be a faculty member could build and lead a similar short-term program which is a modified NCAA “foreign tour” or perhaps create a short-term option that includes some student athletes in addition to some non-athletes on a faculty led program abroad.

Adapting the foreign tour model to be credit-bearing could take many successful forms. But student athletes should be encouraged, ideally upon matriculation, to deliberate upon how they might incorporate an experience abroad into a portion of their subsequent four-year plan. This advisement would be best received if and when international education professionals collaborate with coaches and athletics department staff to help them understand options up front. Other short-term offerings could take the form of international internships or research or an equally valuable non-credit bearing co-curricular program where the focus is more on personal and intercultural development than academics. Whatever the model, student athletes and their coaches are going to be most receptive to a carefully curated menu of options that will fit well within their sports’ schedules. Whether topical or interdisciplinary learning, language or culture learning, when done right, student athletes will likely go abroad at a higher rate and make significant gains in a short time that will last a lifetime.


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Learning Disabilities: How to Prepare Students to Succeed Abroad

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 4, 2018

Contributed by the 2017-2018 Task Force on Access for Disabilities Abroad
Randi Butler - Institute of International Education; Laura Kaplan - University of Texas at Austin; Marnie Nelson – Univ of Nebraska; Lauren Schuller - Bentley University; Erika Wise - Texas A&M University


The wellness and success of students who have learning disabilities or neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. ADHD) should always be a consideration for any professional who works in education abroad. According to the 2015-2016 Open Doors Report conducted by the Institute of International Education, participation in study abroad by students with disabilities has increased by more than 6% in the last decade. Data shows that the majority of students with disabilities who study abroad had either learning (34%) or mental health (27%) disabilities. While physical and mental health disabilities can impact a student’s experience outside the classroom during study abroad, a learning or cognitive disability can impact a student’s academic experience while abroad. Once a student has disclosed their disability, that should trigger a process for the education abroad advisor and student disability service office to begin preparing the student for their international experience. This includes addressing customs barriers a student may face pertaining to medication they take, communicating the student’s disability with the foreign institution or program provider, and determining how accommodations the student typically receives at their home institution may translate to their learning experience abroad.


It is important for education abroad advisors to understand the resources and services offered at their partner institutions for students with disabilities. Being prepared and informed allows advisors to set students’ expectations about the differences they may experience and adjustments that may be necessary. Diversity Abroad Network member institution, Bentley University, recently surveyed all of its international partner universities, and of the 15 responses, 86% of them reported offering accommodations to students with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. While this number is encouraging, each foreign institution is different in terms of the level of support provided and the accommodations that can be offered to students. Many institutions, particularly in Western Europe and Oceania, have an office of Services for Students with Disabilities and information accessible on their websites.

Some examples from foreign institutions of higher education include the following:


In other regions including Latin America, Asia, Middle East and Africa, access to accommodations will vary depending on the institution. For example, public universities may not offer the same level of student support services as private universities. While in the United States, typically it is the public institutions that provide a more streamlined level of support for students with disabilities.


Advisors should encourage students to disclose any disabilities that may require accommodations, and should consider creating a formal process through which students can discreetly disclose disabilities and request accommodations (see specific examples in Diversity Abroad’s Education Abroad Advisor Manual: Access for Disabilities Abroad). Furthermore, advisors should be prepared to work directly with students and exchange partners to determine which accommodations can be offered. In some cases, affiliate providers may be able to offer additional or work with home institutions to create unique accommodations for students with learning disabilities. For example, at Texas A&M University students are encouraged to disclose their disability multiple times throughout the process of applying to a study abroad program. The opportunity to disclose is presented multiple times throughout the application process (e.g. initial application, health survey, orientation meeting) to ensure that students know they have an obligation to disclose and to encourage students to be open about their accommodation needs.


One specific challenge advisors face in working with students with learning and cognitive disabilities is that students often consider the academic component of study abroad as an afterthought. Much of the culture of study abroad from the student perspective comes from curated social media images and stories of adventure from peers. Academics are often omitted from the story altogether. As a result, some students feel they do not need their medication, academic accommodations, and/or medical care while abroad. This can be a dangerous mindset, and students often find themselves in a panic once they begin classes abroad and realize how heavily they rely on the support measures they were accustomed to back home.


A current study abroad student from a Diversity Abroad member institution found himself in this situation when he arrived at his host university in Europe. He recounts the struggles he faced when he began his classes and reflects on the mistakes he made in preparing to study abroad. He writes,

 

The primary reason for which I decided against bringing along my medication relates back to the overall reputation on campus of the ‘study abroad experience’ being less than academically rigorous. Many of us have friends who return from their time abroad, recounting wild stories of parties, extensive travel, and extraordinary life experiences. However, almost never did I hear any of my peers talk about their time actually spent in class or even at school in general. This type of conversation on campus lead me to believe there would be a decreased level of academic rigor abroad, and thus I would have no need to bring along my meds. This conclusion, however, I can now say is entirely false.

 

 The student goes on to say that “upon arrival at the [host] university and after actually obtaining the class outlines for the first time, I realized I had made a grave mistake. By failing to bring along my medication, I was left in a foreign country, with little knowledge of the language, no access to my prescribing doctor, no ADHD medication, and no obvious resources to obtain what I needed.” This student also comments on the difficulty of acquiring an adequate quantity of medication to bring with him abroad. Finding an online, comprehensive list of countries that allow certain ADHD medications is difficult. However, providing students with resources like government websites can be helpful. The CDC website has several articles relating to safety abroad, and the United States Department of State website allows students to search for medical and health-related information specific to the country(ies) they will be visiting. The International Narcotics Control Board website (incb.org) provides lists of drug/medicine regulations organized by country.

 

With all of the competing priorities students have, the strenuous process of obtaining medication to bring abroad can be extremely overwhelming. This, coupled with misconceptions about academic rigor abroad, cause many students to elect to forgo the process altogether and try their luck at a med-free semester abroad. As advisors, we must help students understand that academics will be a significant component of their experience abroad. We must reclaim the narrative and remind students through one-on-one advising, pre-departure orientation and peer-to-peer mentoring that study abroad is an academic experience and that putting their health on the back-burner will only cause them more stress and difficulty in the long run.


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GSLS 2018 in Review

Posted By Trixie Cordova, Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The 4th Annual Global Student Leadership Summit was held during the 6th Diversity Abroad Conference on April 7-10 in Miami, FL. This year, we welcomed our largest cohort yet -- close to 70 students representing 40 different colleges and universities across the U.S. GSLS students studied abroad in countries including Cyprus, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Senegal, Brazil, South Korea, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Japan, Ghana, France, Italy, Croatia, Cuba, Vienna, Argentina, Romania, Scotland, and Germany, and we were excited to host a new crop of diverse global leaders for another year of reflection, growth, and community building.

 

As in previous years, GSLS provided a much-needed space for diverse study abroad alumni to find community in one another while unpacking their experiences abroad. Our event kicked off with a compelling and inspiring Keynote, delivered by FIU’s Vice President of Engagement, Saif Ishoof. Saif told students about his own life’s work, his commitment to serving the larger Miami community, and challenged the students to utilize his network to leverage their own career paths by friending him on LinkedIn right away. Saif’s words gave students the energy boost to kick off a packed day one.

 

Over the course of nine unique sessions, students delved into three days of discussion. Below is a brief summary of what was explored:

 

Day one was focused on internal reflection. Students began GSLS by designing personal “Life Maps” to contextualize what has led them to this point in the present, and what informs their goals for the future. During “Your Diversity Abroad”, students had the opportunity to ‘sound-off’ on their time abroad, and share their ideas about ways they would improve the student experience. Day one wrapped up with a discussion on the intercultural competencies developed abroad, and how that aligns with one’s leadership skills.

 

New to GSLS this year was the opportunity students had to connect briefly with FIU Upward Bound students from local Miami high schools. During day one of GSLS, these high school students learned more about global programs from our High School Task Force before meeting our GSLS students for a game of “Get to Know You” BINGO. The prizes included two ‘swag bags’, and two brand new passports to encouraging the high school students to go global as early as possible!

 

Day two was all about career development. The day started with a series of sessions focused on tangible advice from our facilitators. Students received personalized resume feedback, explored post-graduate opportunities such as fellowships or teaching abroad, and also had an intimate conversation about how going overseas can help one confirm their desired career path. Students then had the opportunity to hear from a panel of professionals across a broad range of sectors, before listening to their peers share their stories during the Welcome Luncheon panel for all conference attendees. GSLS students closed their programming on day two with a Career Reception to learn more about potential employment opportunities. This reception featured attendees representing the Peace Corps, Public Policy & International Affairs (PPIA) Program, Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS), PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC), and USAID Global Health Fellows.

 

The third and final day of GSLS was focused on next steps. Students talked about what it takes to practically make the transition from being in college to developing one’s career, and closed with thinking about how to ‘pay it forward’ and make an impact on their campuses and in their communities to see more students from diverse backgrounds going abroad.

 

It was an honor to once again host a unique re-entry opportunity for diverse students at universities and colleges across the country. We look forward to hosting another cohort of incredible, diverse student leaders for GSLS 2019 in Boston, MA from March 2-5!


Tags:  Global Student Leadership Summit 

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Meet the Team: Marketing Coordinator

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 26, 2018

Ariana Peña - Marketing Coordinator

 

Tell us about yourself:

 

I recently graduated Cum Laude from Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont where I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Studies, Journalism, & Digital Arts with a minor in Business Administration. During my time at St. Michael’s, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a full semester.While in Argentina, I witnessed firsthand the underrepresentation of ethnic-minority students such as myself in study abroad programs. As one of the few people of color enrolled in my study abroad program, I had difficulty navigating my identity and experiences as a Mexican-American woman studying abroad for the first time amongst a cohort of mostly white men and women. These experiences inspired me to dedicate my senior thesis to researching the historic underrepresentation and unequal access of study abroad opportunities for ethnic minority students. During this time, I also served as a study abroad ambassador during my final year of college, specifically targeting first-generation, ethnic-minority, and financially disadvantaged students. 

 

Why did you join Diversity Abroad?

 

In my role at Diversity Abroad, I am able to give back to the local and global community that inspired my career. I studied abroad because of scholarships that were awarded to me. Knowing that someone else invested in my future reminded me of the continued generosity (both tangible and intangible) that has been granted to me throughout my educational journey. We know that education is the gift that can’t be taken away, therefore the opportunity to provide students with resources to expand their knowledge and experiences in our globally interconnected classrooms is my way of “paying it forward”. Diversity Abroad allows me to do that in a very unique way.

 

Why did you join Diversity Abroad?


I believe every student should have access to the transformative power of receiving a global education. I joined Diversity Abroad because it is dedicated to providing students and professionals with the resources necessary to bridge the accessibility gap in international education and to make for a more inclusive environment. 


 

What do you do at Diversity Abroad?

 

As marketing coordinator at Diversity Abroad, I manage the daily editorial and promotional content for our student and professional audiences via diversityabroad.com, diversitynetwork.org, social media platforms, and email. I also assist in the planning and coordination of company events, including the Annual Diversity Abroad Conference.

 
 

Where do you see global education going in five years?

 

As our world continues to be more connected through technology, business, and social media, it will be more important than ever for young professionals to be able to communicate interculturally in order to compete in the 21st century global market. As a result, I believe education abroad will slowly become a standard for the educational and professional development of generations to come. Therefore, the work of organizations like Diversity Abroad and others in the field of international education will be crucial in shaping accessibility to global education programs. 

 

Tags:  Diversity Abroad Staff 

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