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"We have to find ways to extend (global) opportunities to as many young people as possible"

Posted By Andrew Gordon, Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Updated: Monday, July 18, 2016

Michelle Obama gave a resounding endorsement of study abroad and global engagement during her recent commencement speech at George Washington University. The First Lady not only discussed the importance of study abroad and global experiences, but encouraged those graduates who had studied abroad to “convince the students behind you to try study-abroad programs — especially students from communities and backgrounds who might not normally consider it.”

What kind of students don’t “consider” study abroad? Turns out Michelle Obama (then Michelle Robinson) had been one.

“I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where the idea of spending some time abroad just didn’t register,” the First Lady told the 2010 graduating class. “My brother and I were the first in our families to go to college, so we were way more focused on just getting in, getting through, and getting on with our lives. So I just never considered that I needed to take an additional journey or expand the boundaries of my own life.”

Michelle Robinson Obama’s story is not unique. Many first-generation college students can relate to her experience; the idea of studying abroad just isn’t part of their academic plan. But that’s generally not the students’ fault — many of them lack awareness about the benefits and opportunities that study abroad can bring, and many think that study abroad just wouldn’t be possible for them.

If no one is informing and educating the students about the opportunities, how would they know? And if they don’t know about the benefits of study abroad, why would they go?

At a time when global engagement is more important than ever for young people, we as academic professionals must do our part to ensure that all students have equal access to global opportunities. 

This doesn't mean that all students will take advantage of study abroad and other international educational opportunities. It means that we must do our part to ensure that students and parents know about the availability of study abroad, how it could impact their lives, and then make it accessible.

Mrs. Obama summed it up by saying “As quickly as the 21st-century global economy moves, we have to find ways to extend those (global) opportunities to as many young people as possible.”

The “we” she speaks of includes all of the academic community. I invite all you to join me and Diversity Abroad as we work to increase diversity and access in study abroad and other global education programs.

Andrew Gordon is the founder and president of Diversity Abroad. He is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, where he studied business, economics and Spanish. He has studied, traveled and worked throughout Europe, South America and Middle East. He started Diversity Abroad in 2006 with the focus of significantly increasing the number of non-traditional students who pursue international education opportunities.

Tags:  education abroad  global education  study abroad 

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Diversification of the U.S. education abroad student profile is more important than ever

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 19, 2010
Updated: Monday, July 18, 2016

The diversification of the U.S. education abroad student profile is more important than ever. Since the Institute of International Education started collecting demographic data on U.S. students studying abroad for their annual Open Doors Report we have seen little change in the very low percentage of students of color studying abroad.This is very problematic on many levels.Additionally, Open Doors has collected and presented data on students with disabilities for two years now.What can professionals do to change the current trend of underrepresentation in education abroad?

Professionals in the field can work to diversify education abroad in many ways.First, we must continue to educate ourselves about this important issue by keeping up with the current research literature and data collection efforts in the field.While the amount of research on underrepresentation in education abroad is relatively small it continues to grow and we are seeing more advanced studies and methods employed in many recent and new studies.Additionally, we now have seventeen years of demographic data on the U.S. education abroad student profile in Open Doors that we can analyze.We can further educate ourselves by attending conference sessions specifically focused on diversifying education abroad at several of the international education related conferences held across the United States each year.Learning from our peers in conference sessions about their successes and failures in diversifying the education abroad student profile on their campus or in their organization is a very valuable exercise.Finally, if you are on a college or university campus it is important to learn the demographic make-up of your campus as well as the profile of your students who participate on an educational opportunities abroad.Knowing this basic data allows for a quick snapshot on the state of education abroad on campus.

In addition to educating ourselves we must reach out and educate our students on the value and importance of adding an education abroad opportunity to their higher education experience.This outreach takes many shapes and forms.Collaborating with Multicultural Affairs and Disability Services offices as well as with faculty and academic departments in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) on outreach and promotional efforts is a critical component in reaching student audiences that traditionally have not considered education abroad opportunities.Another helpful approach to engage the full student body into the international education conversation is to prepare promotional literature that shows a diverse group of students taking part in all of the education abroad opportunities available on your campus or with your organization.Finally, it is important to evaluate all of the education abroad programs offered to students and consider the feasibility of establishing a program that may draw the attention of students who may be interested in heritage seeking opportunities.This latter option is, of course, not always feasible but a quick analysis of your campus demographics might show otherwise.

It is so important for all of our college and university students to have an educational experience abroad if they so choose.Additionally, it is time for the world to see the wonderful diversity found in all of our students and for the world to understand that it is this diversity that makes the United States what it is today!

David Comp currently works as the Senior Adviser for International Initiatives in The College at The University of Chicago.  He has also consulted on several international education related projects for a variety of institutions and organizations in higher education.  He serves on the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Studies in International Education (JSIE) and edits and maintains International Higher Education Consulting Blog.

Tags:  education abroad 

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