In early October, AIFS alumni Savannah Bowen and Haley Taylor had the opportunity to share their experiences of studying abroad with AIFS at the Generation Study Abroad Summit. The event was hosted by the Institute for International Education in Washington, DC. and brought together leaders and practitioners from education, government and business for action-oriented discussion on global workforce readiness. The conference focused on study abroad and career development with theme “Navigating a Changing World: Building Talent with Global Experience.”
AIFS is a partner of IIE, whose goal is to double participation in study abroad programs by 2020. The event featured a series of ‘Summit Talks,’ which focused on the best means to increase participation from underrepresented populations in study abroad.
“I am honored and grateful to have participated in this year’s summit and the conversation on study abroad as a movement,” said Bowen. “I served on panels, heard fascinating stories while dining at the New Zealand Embassy, and was even interviewed for Diverse magazine. I got to connect with students from my alma mater, Howard University, and to brainstorm with other likeminded individuals about the ways that study abroad can continue to advance.”
Bowen studied abroad in Paris in the spring of 2015. Upon graduation from Howard University in 2016, she returned to Paris to work as an English Language Assistant through the TAPIF program. She currently serves as an intern and administrative assistant for Brite Initiative Inc. in Jacmel, Haiti. At the Summit, she participated in the panel “Understanding Access and Support for Underrepresented Students,” where she tied her study abroad experience to her current work.
“I particularly shared how my position as a black woman had a different significance for me than for the other students I studied abroad with in Paris in 2015. While they were experiencing France in all of its classical beauty, I was realizing that my Haitian heritage chained me to France’s history in a painful way. My decision to live and work in Haiti currently is a direct result of the experience I had in Paris. It is an experience that many black students may have as they study in popular locations, where slavery and racism are deeply embedded in history and society.”
Bowen noted the importance of ensuring students of diverse backgrounds have access to these opportunities as well as continued support from staff in international education. “I personally champion diversity in study abroad because I know that black people need all the benefits that international education offers: confidence, adaptability, better grades, high graduation rates, and higher employment rates after graduation. I speak about study abroad to all the young people I know because I want to see our communities advance.”
The Summit also touched on STEM majors going abroad and the importance of continuing to offer programs which will attract students from underrepresented majors to go abroad. Taylor studied abroad in Florence, Italy as a sophomore at the University of Alabama. She majored in Chemistry and plans to attend Physician Assistant school starting May 2018.
“Overall the GSA Summit allowed me network with other people that shared the same interests and goals for the future of international education,” said Taylor. “Meeting other students and hearing their abroad experiences also encouraged me to explore my global options in the medical field for my future career as a Physician Assistant. I was inspired to act and think critically of not only my experiences abroad, but how to best encourage fellow students to take the leap of faith and go abroad, to ultimately prepare themselves for the global workforce of the future.”
In addition to studying abroad, both Bowen and Taylor served as AIFS Alumni Ambassadors at their home institutions, where they took part in a year-long professional development program. The program helps students learn how to best articulate their experiences and determine avenues for sharing their experiences with their campus communities.
“My AIFS Alumni Ambassador training has become invaluable for me. Since that training I have been tailoring my story and leveraging my experiences abroad in order to communicate my best qualities to people of influence,” said Bowen. “I have secured work in France and now in Haiti by using these tactics, and they truly are indispensable. Program providers and universities looking to give students a competitive edge need to provide more (and maybe mandatory) career development, so that alumni can be as versatile as possible when they transition into the professional world.”
For more information on AIFS alumni and diversity initiatives, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.