Minorities make up a very small percentage of students who study abroad. For me, hearing the numbers and seeing the numbers are completely different. Seeing them for myself was a major influence on my decision to study abroad — I knew how much I valued a study abroad experience, but it was apparent through the numbers that there was a disconnect. By studying abroad myself, I hoped to show other minority students that studying abroad was valuable and obtainable. I also wanted to contribute to the minority study abroad numbers and, through my experiences, hopefully inspire others to take part in the experience, as well. I’ve found that many minority students don’t even consider studying abroad despite the many advantages they’d obtain.
Some minority students have this notion that studying abroad is too expensive and that they won’t be able to integrate their chosen field of study into their time abroad. While many study abroad options may sound expensive, with proper planning the “too expensive” excuse will be a thing of the past. Many universities even work with the AIFS program by allowing students to use their financial aid to participate. This way, it’s possible for your study abroad program fees and expenses to be transferred through your school’s business or financial aid office!
You can also tailor your study abroad destination to match your field of study. I chose Spain because of my Spanish minor and my host city offered business courses, which would also help contribute to my Business Administration minor. My point is that studying abroad has really evolved into something that is obtainable for everyone. As a minority student, I found that by utilizing the tools given and by putting in some time, I was able to obtain a valuable experience like none other.
Being a minority abroad started off a little rocky, I’m not going to lie. My host city was not very diverse and I saw very few people with my racial backgrounds. Something that is important for me, no matter where I travel, is diversity — and it’s something that I feel my host city lacked. It was hard to find natural hair care products and very hard to go out and hear some R&B and hip-hop music regularly.
Now, at first I saw this as a negative thing. There were times I would get long stares from locals that irked my nerves and, yes, I had one discriminatory encounter. Even though it sounds bad, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. The purpose of studying abroad is to encounter new experiences and engage in a new culture, and while being discriminatory is not a part of Spanish culture, these experiences made me realize why it was that much more important for minorities to travel.
Comparing my host city (in the northwest of Spain) to Barcelona (south of Spain), you could clearly see which of the cities — even regions — had been exposed to new races. I couldn’t really fault the locals for staring with intrigue if they weren’t used to seeing someone of race in their country on a normal basis. This, in part, is why I encourage minorities to study abroad in countries that are different from their own — because what you don’t realize is that each minority who studies abroad will help shape the way the host country views us. It was a real eye-opener to realize how different countries, and even cities, can be. That is the beauty of studying abroad.
Studying abroad as a minority is so important and I encourage you step outside your norm and dive into a new culture and lifestyle. The lessons you’ll learn are worth it. Through my study abroad experience I learned patience, perseverance, and of course some Spanish. I learned to accept others and their differences. Most importantly, I learned the importance of taking the time to appreciate the things around you. There would be times I would walk around my host city and just stop and admire its beauty because, despite what I was going through, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Inspired by Jordan’s story? Interested in spending a semester, summer, academic year, or January term overseas? Click here to learn more about AIFS Study Abroad programs around the world.