At Rhodes College, a vast number of the student body participates in at least one study abroad experience before they graduate – whether that be for a full semester or a May-mester. Unfortunately, this large group does not constitute many Black students. The question has been raised as to why that is.
Treshain Norfleet, a junior going on the Egypt May-mester, said, “Well, I feel like the main obstacle is money. We would like the opportunity to go, but we just don’t have the funds. Also, it may have something to do with not knowing the steps to be able to go abroad. The fear itself of going abroad and being in uncomfortable surroundings comes into play as well.”
The issue of publicizing events may be a possibility. However, the College does a good job of broadcasting for study abroad opportunities at the Sack Fair, as well as other avenues throughout the year.
The next possible issue is finances. A majority, if not all, of the Black students in attendance receive financial aid to cover expenses. The idea that Black students are unable to afford studying abroad comes into play.
Treshain Norfleet confirmed assumptions on the lack of involvement Black students have regarding studying abroad, but she is studying in Egypt. Being a Black student who has studied abroad for a May-mester in Italy, I can confirm the same fears that she discussed. But many Black students are not aware of the financial aid that is available to them because they never muster the courage to go to any of the study abroad sessions.
The fear that their parents won’t pay for their travels looms large. But the study abroad department is helpful with locating money to go abroad; it just takes initiative on the student’s part. They must show interest and ask for help. The fear of being out of one’s comfort zone is realistic. I experienced this while in Italy. However, getting to know the people who are embarking on this journey as well helps to alleviate this fear. They act as a support system and a source of familiarity.
So, the first step is to be optimistic and open-minded. As a result, everyone, White and Black, will have an amazing study abroad experience.
Sabrina Brown, the Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs, understands these fears and has made possiblea trip to Belize over the winter break for students of color. She also organized a panel of Black students who have studied abroad to talk to ethnic students about their experiences. This is in hopes that some fears may be alleviated and Black students might be encouraged to participate in study abroad. With the trip to Belize, she has arranged to provide at least half of the finances to attend and has left the rest up to the student to obtain. Every student should have the change to study abroad. The rewards outweigh the fears!