Updated: Nov 9, 2018
Study abroad programs are often an underfunded and under appreciated department in many educational institutions. This is not to say people aren’t taking advantage of such amazing resources, it’s that not a lot of people are doing so. Many students don’t even know that studying abroad is an option for them, especially students of color. While some schools may not have a study abroad department or is lacking in resources, there are also outside of school funding and institutions that provide opportunities to study abroad. But again A LOT of our students, black or white, don’t know this. And I say students, because studying abroad is not limited to just colleges students, there are programs for high school, college and graduate students and programs if you want to intern or volunteer.
I studied abroad in my sophomore (2nd year) year of college at SUNY Albany. To be completely honest, I don’t recall exactly how I stumbled upon the idea of studying abroad, but I do know it had something to do with my major of anthropology or one of my anthropology classes. For me, it was all on a whim. I knew that I was interested in going, but i didn’t know it would actually happen. I remember choosing Denmark, because I seen the movie The Prince and Me and thought Denmark was beautiful… although I’m sure some of the backdrops were fictional. The fact that this was one of the very few programs that offered me the opportunity to study in Amsterdam as well. solidified it for me. So in my eyes, I was getting to travel to two countries I have never been to all while receiving credits for it. Considering this was the first time I would be traveling internationally without my parents (3,845 miles away to be exact), I was excited because it was new. I opted for a three week program, because I assumed I’d get homesick, but till this day I wish I opted for the six week program. However, three weeks were all I needed to understand the importance of studying abroad, which is why I’m here spreading the word about the wonders of studying abroad. Here are my three reasons why students should be taking advantage of their school’s study abroad programs.
1. Travel the world, See new places, Experience different cultures & Make new friends!
These 3 weeks were very informative for me. Life changing i’d like to think but it showed me that there was so much more outside of my little comfort bubble. The minute I started the trip without my parents I was out of my comfort zone, but by the end of it I was comfortable in my environment and very much aware and grateful for the differences and similarities between my culture and danish culture. It was a MAJOR learning experience. And that is the number 1 reason why more students should be taking advantage of studying abroad. Learning in a classroom is good for a controlled environment but there's is nothing like being in an unfamiliar environment and learning from it. It opens your eyes to cultures that are unknown to you. It offers you a different perspective of the world than what you are used to. And in order to grow and learn you must be removed from your comfort zone. Like I said in my Luxury vs Right post, once we become familiar with the unknown it's no longer scary. And that’s exactly how it was for me. It made me want to see more of world cause there was so much out there I didn’t know about.
Additionally, you get to make new friends with people in your program, school, or in the host country. If you find it hard to mingle with people from a different background then many programs house their study abroad students in a dormitory together but if you are looking for an immersive experience when you can just soak in the culture, you can have the option of living with a host family. I luckily had the best of both worlds, since the housing I stayed at in Denmark housed not only study abroad students, but local students as well. We all shared kitchen facilities, but you were pretty much living on your own. It was like a little apartment complex with people from so many different backgrounds, because a lot of the local students were from elsewhere in Europe, but studying in Denmark. We would BBQ, make dinner together, go out together and just have fun. It made the experience that much more memorable. For three weeks these people were my closest friends and I had no problem with that.
2. Studying Abroad/Traveling is not only for the wealthy. Take advantage of scholarships, fellowships, grants, other financial resources.
Studying abroad is a way of accessing travel especially if access is limited for financial reasons. Yes, it does cost money, but the good thing about studying abroad is what you get from it is more than what you pay for it so you will certainly be getting your money’s worth. Some ways to combat the cost of studying abroad is by doing research and looking up scholarships, fellowships, grants or other financial resources. Most times, if you are able to write a well thought out essay explaining why you want to travel, you can get some type of financial funding that will assist in the cost. It’s possible that you can even have your whole trip covered depending on the program, but these things of course require a little more work. When I was studying abroad, I believe applying for a summer FAFSA loan was also an option. Now I also mention fellowships and grants, because these are the times where I see people having most of the expenses paid for their travel. With fellowship and grants, you may be working on a research project, volunteering at a educational institution, or working on your own research. From experience, I know of two people who weren’t expecting to travel or study abroad, but applied for a fellowship and grant just cause and got it. The first woman is my cousin, who only applied for a fellowship, because her co-worker insisted. As of result, she was able to spend 5 months in Frankfurt, Germany, working in a lab, which allowed her to visit other nearby countries. The other woman is a student I helped. She came to the study abroad office where I worked in graduate school, looking for advice on where to study and how to begin the process. After much talk, we realized there was a grant she could apply to and my boss was on the committee. She ended up getting the grant and was able to study abroad in Kenya, while still in undergrad. You never know what may come from it . That’s why it doesn’t hurt to apply, because the worst they can say it No, but the best they can say is Yes.
If you aren’t able to travel because of financial reasons, look into the study abroad programs at school, because those are definitely you’re friend. Below i’ll list a few resources that can assist in your study abroad search but you should essentially start with your school or institution study abroad/fellowship department first.
Go OverSeas: https://www.gooverseas.com/scholarships
Go Abroad: https://www.goabroad.com/scholarships-abroad
*Most study abroad websites have a scholarships/financial resources page, just search around.
3. Using your school resources to obtain a global education.
Now I’ve only mentioned the experience so far, because that in itself is life changing. Just the experience of living in another country by yourself away from your family and friends for an extended period of time is a huge lesson. But let’s not forget, on top of this you are also attending classes for whichever program you decided on. Choosing a destination that you’d like is important but so is choosing the program you wish to study, because for however long you are there this is what you’ll be learning. And often times the places you choose have a special relationship to the topic studied. For me, I was able to study the Sex Trade and Human Trafficking. Studying this in Amsterdam made complete sense, but why Denmark. For people like me who didn’t know this prior to studying abroad, I learned that prostitution was decriminalized in Denmark similar to the way it is in Amsterdam, but not as outright. Now, having the opportunity to go to Denmark and Amsterdam and study the sex trade and human trafficking, as well as seeing with my own eyes the negotiating of sales, the good and bad, the logistics (in terms of which women are placed in which areas of the red light district), and the women themselves standing in windows, was beyond eye opening. I was speechless most of the time, because none of this was conceivable in my comfort zone since it’s not legal in America. But here is this different perspective of the sex trade and parts of it work and parts of it doesn’t, some women are empowered by this and some are forced into it. All of this I learned in my 3 weeks. Just imagine, if I opted for the 6 weeks program.
This coupled with the overall experience of living on your own in a different country and continent sometimes, contributes to your global education. For me, it opened my eyes to the sex trade. Although it doesn’t directly affect me, so many women, child and men are being affected by the role it plays in society. And on the other hand there are people who are empowered by it and participate because it is their right to choose. How could I get this perspective in America? I doubt I would have, which is why coming to Denmark and Amsterdam was necessary to fully understand the sex trade. Traveling also facilitates tolerance. It’s okay to not understand something but this is why we must educate ourselves, so as not to remain ignorant.