(Apologizing in advance for this stream of consciousness post – thanks for sticking with me anyway .)
I’m not really sure where this idea came from (thanks God!), but one day something told me to check to see if our library had Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Now, I have started reading this book before – but it was one of those popular books that every one was reading and I’m like yeah, I get it but I never felt compelled to finish it. Until now.
Title of this post doesn’t tell the full story. The real title should be “What does The Tipping Pointhave to do with underrepresentation in study abroad?” And the answer to that – is everything. As I was sitting with a blank Microsoft Word document in front of me last week (some people call this brainstorming? Planning? The calm before the storm?), I couldn’t decide where I should start when it comes to developing the strategic plan to diversify Education Abroad at the University of Maryland. I know we can put on all of these programs, we can do recruitment, develop partnerships – there are tons of activities that we can do but that doesn’t really get to the root of why students of color aren’t studying abroad.
There has to be a shift.
There has to be a shift in the mindset of our students. And that shift isn’t going to come from me talking to a room full of students at the cultural center. It has to be organic. It has to be widespread. It has to be phenomenal. It’s a social change. Right now our students don’t look at study abroad as something that’s for them. But that can change.
My ultimate goal is to normalize study abroad for students of color. And I believe The Tipping Point can shed some light as to why it occurs, how I can initiate that change, and where our tipping point resides here on campus. I do feel like there’s a shift that’s already started, but I don’t think we’re going about it in the most effective way.
As Malcolm Gladwell says in the introduction, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”
Who’s ready for study abroad to go viral? *raises both hands. then puts them down to get to work.*
I know you all know this, but… I love my job. Like it makes me smile just thinking about how blessed I am. And sometimes it makes me cry to think about some of the amazing stories that come across my desk. We are not kidding when we say studying abroad changes lives – and sometimes it’s not just the lives of the students, but the ones that are blessed by their stories (me!).
Meet Reid. A student at George Washington University who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. A student who was flat out told that he could not study abroad because of his disability. A student who not only didn’t take no for an answer, but also kickstarted his way toward documentary about his time in Rome. A student who is literally showing all those people who told him no (and the rest of the world too) that even though he may be the one with the physical disability, we may be the ones who are truly limited. A student who had me at my desk trying not to shed tears at just how awesome he is (they weren’t tears of sadness). A student whose story left me speechless.
Check out the trailer for his documentary, Wheelchair Diaries. I can’t wait to see the full-length film after he’s traveled to Europe:
Last week was UMD’s spring break. But instead of chilling on the beaches of Miami (my usual March/April getaway), I found myself in Heaven. Or what heaven would be for those who work in study abroad – the Annual Conference of the Forum on Education Abroad. The networking, learning, friendship-forming (friending? befriending??), reconnecting, and karaoke (don’t ask) that took place last week was an awesome reenergizing experience for international education. Not that I need reenergizing or anything – I obviously still love my job! But being surrounded by likeminded individuals who are so passionate about study abroad and especially about diversifying and access really made my heart smile. I can’t even tell you how many sessions I was sitting in and had to really think about something ridiculous to keep from tearing up. Whether it was a group of students on a panel sharing how study abroad has really changed their life (how original right?) or the simple recognition that two years ago I had my first experience walking away from a well-paying corporate position on the corporate ladder – a phone call I’ll never forget because it took me days to even craft what to say. And while most of the time when you step off of a ladder you fall to the ground, the weight that was lifted made me feel like I could fly. And now I can, both literally and figuratively. But I digress…
One of the full-day workshops taught us the art of Digital Storytelling. It was an amazing experience that tricks students into personal reflection and processing their experience. Ok, so maybe tricked isn’t the right word but creating a digital story is so much fun that you forget that you are actually learning and processing information while you are creating it. I hope that we’ll be able to incorporate the Digital Storytelling into our returnee programming one day… but we already have so many ideas in our office! During the one-day workshop I created this piece reflecting on my time in Brazil and really re-living my experience while I was there: ’twas amazing. Please enjoy my debut digital story – the Irony of Solo Travel:
Major s/o to Doug and team who put this all together! No way I could have learned all this in a day on my own while producing something I’m not afraid to share with everyone else (the perfectionist in me apparently was on spring break or something).
One of my many dream jobs is to run study abroad at my alma mater, Howard University. When I returned from my own study abroad I was like the one-woman study abroad hypeman of the year. I tried to convince any and everybody to get to the Ralph J. Bunche International Center and seek out a program that was right for them. If you don’t do it in undergrad, when you have the time and the loans, it’s even harder once you graduate. All that said, it makes my heart smile when I see HU students leaving their footprints, both figuratively and literally, on faraway lands that most people have only heard about or seen pictures of on Google images.
One of the legendary professors at HU, Dr. Carr, leads a study abroad group each summer, usually somewhere on the Continent. This summer the students traveled, did research, took classes, and more throughout South Africa. They were even invited to dinner at the home of the President of South Africa. Major! I’m sure many of them have never even shaken hands with our very own Barack Obama. But to have tea and dinner with President Jacob Zuma and First Lady Nampumelelo Ntuli Zuma is an undeniably incredible opportunity that I’m sure none of participants will ever forget!
The students have just wrapped up their trip, but please visit their live blog to read more about their experiences with the President and First Lady, their visits to Soweto and the Apartheid Museums, their encounters living on the campus of the University of Cape Town, visit to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner, and many, many more. You can also read more about the courses the students were taking and see vides from the classroom! The views of each of the students that contribute are varied but equally insightful and meaningful. The enlightenment and excitement, frustration and anger all surface through the students’ voices. Be sure to visit the blog and comment to encourage the young scholars in their endeavors. This was such an amazing opportunity and we want them to know that people are watching. We always say we don’t get positive press, well here’s our chance – let’s spread the word!
So, unless you’ve been hiding in the cave that everyone thought Osama bin Laden was hiding in, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that he was killed in a mansion outside of Islamabad, Pakistan. The reactions to this news have run the gamut from cheering and dancing in the streets to disgust at said cheering to a complete lack of interest. Shortly after word spread about bin Laden’s death, President Obama addressed the American public saying “his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.” I certainly won’t get into the politics of this situation here – but I will say that there are certainly proven ways of achieving peace. Starting that journey to peace with murder is highly improbable. I don’t suppose it’s impossible, but again – highly improbable.
So true to my international education, study abroad, intercultural experience form, I’d like to introduce you to Peacebuilding Youth Programs. These are not your average summer camps. At SIT, these teenagers typically come from post-conflict environments (or where conflict is still alive and well) to the U.S. are engaged in empowering intercultural experiences with teens they would never be able to speak with in there home country. For example, Greek and Turkish teens from Cyprus, Protestant and Catholic teens from Northern Ireland, and American and Iraqi teens share experiences here on campus where they build meaningful relationships with each other.
Not only do they build those relationships and become friends (something that never would have happened in their conflict-driven societies), but they also spend that time on campus learning skills such as conflict transformation and doing teambuilding exercises such as ropes courses. And I mean, these are teenagers in the summer time – so of course they have fun! To learn more about SIT’s Peacebuilding Programs, click here. Global Youth Village has an intensive Peacebuilding camp called Crossing Cultures that is open to American and International youth from various countries – find that information here. Seeds of Peace is yet another (but certainly not the last!) organization doing amazing Peacebuilding work with youth. Click here or check out the video below.
If you’re from Memphis, these programs are similar to Bridge Builders, but on a global scale.
If there’s ever going to be peace, we’ve got to start with the youth. These are also ways for U.S. teens to be immersed in intercultural experiences before they’ve even gotten a passport. Many of them are located right here in the U.S. but have just as many, if not more, international student participants as American participants. Here’s a video from the Early Show on CBS that features Seeds of Peace:
It’s only fitting that the first study abroad company that I should profile is the very one that introduced me to my love of Italy specifically and travel in general – IES Abroad. IES Abroad just so happened to be one of the very few organizations that had a program in Milan – and the only one my university approved. But if you are looking for a great, organized, well-established study abroad program, I’d highly recommend IES Abroad. Not only does IES operate in dozens of countries, but they also provide things like internships abroad, academic and diversity scholarships, and even blog (and vlog) hosting while you’re away!
Name: IES Abroad
Programs: Business and International Relations, Fine and Performing Arts, Science and Engineering, Communication and Media, Social and Behavioral Science, Language, Summer, Semester, January Term, Internships Abroad
Cost: Programs start at $3200 for January Term, $5500 for Summer, and $13000 for Spring, and $12000 for Fall – Don’t let those numbers scare you! IES Abroad has academic, need-based, program, legacy, and diversity scholarhips, grants, and discounts (also keep in mind that your tuition for your home institution is usually applied to that amount. At the end of the day I think I ended up paying $700 for my semester abroad experience.
Application Deadlines: To travel for the spring semester, deadlines are as early as October 1 through November 1 (so act now!). For summer and fall study abroad, deadlines begin in March.
Destinations: Tokyo, Rabat (Morocco), Cape Town, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Galapagos, Barcelona, Delhi, European Union, Christchurch (New Zealand), and about 20 more cities!
What sets IES Abroad Apart:
- The ability to get an International Internship (I was a Communications Intern at the European School of Economics during my study abroad). It looks amazing on a resume; but really – the experience itself is amazing without even considering a resume.
- Two students who met during my semester in Italy got married this summer (such a better story than “we met on eharmony”.)
- The genius of a January Term! Short-term study abroad for those of you who have a January Term at your university.
- Blog and video blog hosting – click here to read some of the latest posts from students currently at one of IESAbroad’s over 90 programs!
Check out this video to see how studying abroad with IESAbroad can redefine your life:
*I’ve been nominated for a Black Weblog Award for 2010! I would greatly appreciate your vote in the Best Travel Category (click on the Finalist Banner to the right to vote). Thank you!*
Actually I’m not going to tell you how to pick your destination. I’m going to let you know how I ended up going to Milan. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to go to one of the “most popular” destinations. “Most popular” usually translates to “touristy” which then translates that I probably won’t get the most authentic international experience. Most of the time if there are 300 American kids in a foreign country in the same program, you won’t ever have the opportunity to really experience the country. It’ll simply be an American experience on foreign soil. So that immediately disqualified Paris and Rome. I definitely wanted to learn another language – so buh-bye London. I didn’t want that language to be Spanish – so adios Barcelona and Madrid.
I actually really knew I wanted to be in Italy. I’ve always had some kinda crush on all things Italian. Italian designers, Italian love, Italian leather, the language, and of course the food. I wanted to be in a “city” as opposed to a rural or small location. I wanted to be able to explore and not experience everything within a month after I’d arrived. So that knocked out Torino (home of the Winter Olympics 2006), Venice, and Florence. Besides, Florence was full of tourists AND it was small so No and No. Everyone there speaks English to you, unlike in Milan where NOONE will speak to you in English – even if they know how. It’s kind of rude but I respected that. I didn’t want to come in and change their culture, I personally wanted to be changed (well my language skills at the very least). I know this is why I was practically fluent in Italian by the time I left. The final reason was because of the opportunity to have an Internship abroad. Milan was one of the few programs that offered Internships – and that was important to me as a Business Marketing major.
So I ended up in Milan partially based on the process of elimination – but it definitely wasn’t an afterthought. I loved everything about that city and could definitely picture myself living there again. It’s the business capital of the country, the nightlife was great, it’s one of the Fashion Capitals of the World, the food is amazing, it’s close to everything, it has everything, it’s the home of Bocconi - one of Europe’s best business school’s, – not one, but TWO futbol teams, and so much more that I know I’m forgetting.
So how do you pick your study abroad destination? Be true to yourself and know what you like (and don’t like). And if you end up picking a place and don’t like it (which won’t happen), you’re only there for a semester and with low-cost airlines such as Ryan Air and EasyJet, you can country hop and visit many other cities.
(If you’re wondering why I only mentioned places in Europe, I still wanted the opportunity visit those places I didn’t want to live in – and I did! I knew that going to Europe, because all of the major cities are relatively close together, would give me the best chance to visit more places. Unlike if I were in say, Sydney, Australia, it would be more difficult to get around to other major cities. But now that I’ve “conquered” Europe, South America and Africa are next!)
Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love and Spain surprised me on many levels. In this travel memoir you follow Lori through her every encounter with international experiences from International Day in third grade, to hosting international students, to spending weeks in Morocco and then to her eternal love affair with Spain (and a Spaniard). Throughout the entire book you get more than just a travel memoir, but you also get to see these experiences through the eyes of a black girl who’s not even sure of her “blackness.” Many people dream of going on that international escapade and falling in love and trying to make an international love affair work – I must admit some of the things that happen in Tharps’s memoir couldn’t have been better scripted on Lifetime. It was a great story and I loved being able to study abroad again through the memoir.
More than the history that Tharps discovered and the reflections on race in Milwaukee and Spain, I was most tied to her time actually studying abroad in Spain. For the majority of the beginning of the book I found myself flipping ahead to see how many more chapters before she goes abroad. Those stories are always the most interesting to me. How can you not want to know more about her first marriage proposal by the Moroccan boy with whom her first date consisted of meeting his mother (first date?!?) where they ate in practically total silence? I live for hearing about experiences like those. I also like to hear more about how Americans in other countries adjust to cultural differences. In Kinky Gazpacho, Tharps remarks about the concept of time in Spain after her date, Manuel, shows up 20 minutes late to her home for dinner:
“The concept of time was a very fluid thing. Deadlines were guidelines. And it was true, if you said you were going to meet someone for drinks at six, not until seven o’clock rolled around could you get even slightly worried that they might be late. So I forgave this smiling Spaniard in front of me…”
I can definitely relate to passages like this from my time abroad in Italy and also from being in Dominca for 5 days. Watches are optional, there are no schedules, things happen whenever they happen – it’s freeing but it takes some getting used to. I’d like to thank Lori L. Tharps for reminding me of these awakening experiences where you learn to appreciate the subtleties of other cultures.
**Not sure if it’s an editor’s or publisher’s issue but at the beginning of this book there are typos and misspellings that REALLY threw me off – I’m a stickler for those kinds of things and it was kind of a distraction. I didn’t notice many (if any) towards the end of the book though.