Join the Club!

What do W.E.B. DuBois, Angela Davis, Marian Wright Edelman, Toni Cade Bambara, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Charles R. Drew, Alice Walker, Tia Mowry, Holly Robinson Peete, Paul Robeson, Tracie Thoms, Aisha Tyler and Kerry Washington (among many others) all have in common?

Yep, you got it. They all studied abroad. Come on, you know you wanna join the club! And if you are past those college years, just travel anyway.

Olivia says, "So you're really going to graduate without studying abroad?"

The look Olivia gives you when you tell her you ain’t trying to study abroad.

Friday Photo: HU -> China

As you can see, today’s Friday photo is a slight variation of the previous images. It’s not of a landscape, or my favorite place. In fact it’s the only picture I haven’t taken myself. Instead it’s something much more important to me and it makes my heart smile in a crazy way! I actually don’t know know where this photo was taken. Probably, D.C. but, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what it represents – my alma mater’s clear and expressed committment to internationalization. I think I may frame this and put it up in the Bunche Center when I am named Director of it in 5-10 years or so my living room or home office. It may seem like a simple guesture – ok so what, a Howard hoodie and a passport. But the truth of the matter is that if you went down the street and asked 10 people to show you their passport, on average only 3 of them will even have one (here in the U.S.). So that’s why this is important. Howard is identifying itself as a institution that develops GLOBAL citizens. Yes, you can do an internship on Wall Street (and MANY HU students do), but you’re not limited to that.

photo credit:

I found this image when Howard tweeted about it’s Freshmen Leadership Academy participating in a 3 week study abroad to China. Can you imagine that? Before you even enroll in a class at HU your first experience is with other future Bison jetsetting to Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo! As sad as I am that this didn’t exist when I was a freshman, I’m just happy that someone picked up the ball and is making strides to expose HU students to a world beyond Georgia Ave. Check the full press release here: Howard Freshman Leadership Academy Promotes Global Citizenship with New Delegation to China and Japan. No, really, click that link. I’m done here. 😉

What does the Tipping Point have to do with Study Abroad?

(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.*

Howard University Students Experience South Africa

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!

The blog can be found here. A photo gallery of the students in South Africa can be found here.

Your Money’s No Good Here!

One of the reasons I ran out of money while I was in Milan for that semester is because when saving, I didn’t really take into account the exchange rate. For every $1 US Dollar, I would only get between E0.65-0.75 cents (eurocents).  And a trip to London was even worse.  With 1 Great Britain pound being worth $2 US Dollars, I was literally paying twice the cost of everything had I bought it here in the States.  For example, we went to Starbucks quite a few times. My toffee nut vanilla latte cost me about 4.40 GBP (Great Britain Pounds).  When I got a chance to check my bank account, I was like, WHEN DID I SPEND $8 AT STARBUCKS??? THREE TIMES??? Yeah, not a fun feeling.  That said, here are some places with a favorable exchange rate for Americans. This means that your $1 will be worth more than that in the local currency.  And exchange rates change daily so staying abreast of them and watching the trends can make all the difference in not breaking the bank while traveling or studying abroad. Without further ado, my top places to visit with a favorable exchange rate:

Brazil ($100 USD = 177.50 Brazilian Real) – Planning my birthday trip to Rio, I began to get really excited when I noticed the exchange rate.  From what I understand, this exchange rate is actually the worst for the USD$ that it has been in years, but it’s still favorable for me. (For example about 5 years ago the rate was $100USD = 300 Real.)

Costa Rica ($100 USD = 53,120.00 Costa Rican Colon) – And no, that’s not a typo.

Argentina ($100 USD = 393.45 Argentine Pesos) – Seems like there is a trend with favorable exchange rates in Latin America, huh?

Egypt ($100 USD = 569.60 Egyptian Pounds)

Fiji ($100 USD = 203.21 Fijian Dollars) – As if you needed another reason to go to Fiji!

New Zealand ($100 USD = 145.37 New Zealand Dollars)

Of course there are other factors that will make a difference in the final cost of goods in these countries, but understanding currencies can be a great way to justify picking certain destinations.  Figure out where your money’s good at – and go there!

Who Knew Michelle Obama was a Study Abroad Advocate?

Getty Images

The graduates of George Washington University earned a commencement speech by Michelle Obama this year. Earlier in the academic year Mrs. Obama challenged the university to complete 100,000 hours of community service, and if they were successful, she would deliver their commencement address.  So this past weekend, she delivered on her promise and gave an amazing speech to the graduates on the National Mall.  After acknowledging the incredible contributions of the students’ volunteer hours, Mrs. Obama used the rest of her speech to issue yet another challenge: “I’m just asking you to keep being you, to keep doing what you’re doing. Just take it global.”

Michelle Obama encourages these students, who are graduating to explore international service and work opportunities such as the Peace Corps since studying abroad as an undergrad is too late.  But she takes it a step farther and challenges them to encourage their younger peers to study abroad – expose themselves to other cultures in order to make themselves better people and America a better place.  She points out the fact that serving abroad not only helps out the country receiving the benefits of their volunteer work, but it helps America – it shows the people in that country the true heart, soul and generosity of Americans.  She acknowledged the countless benefits of studying abroad in this increasingly global world, especially among those who might not have access to opportunities such as international travel. “So many Americans either don’t have those opportunities or simply don’t consider them. And as interconnected as we are; as quickly as the 21st century global economy moves; we have to find ways to extend those opportunities to as many young people as possible.”

I love that Mrs. Obama uses her speech as an opportunity to speak about the importance of study abroad and international travel.  I only wish that she would also give similar speeches at schools like Howard or in other parts of the city and actually talk to those people who don’t consider those opportunities.  Not that students at GW won’t benefit from these words, but over half the undergraduates at GW already study abroad.  It’s almost like preaching to the choir.

Some of my favorite nuggets from the commencement address:

On ways to “take it global”: “It can mean continuing your own personal and professional growth by traveling far and wide. Or it can mean reaching back to convince the students behind you to try study abroad programs, especially students from communities and backgrounds who might not normally consider it.”

On the ultimate benefit of studying abroad and international travel: “In the end, the simple act of opening your mind and engaging abroad –- whether it’s in the heart of campus or in the most remote villages -– can change your definition of what’s possible.”

I am so glad that Michelle Obama, a woman who many people in our community look up to has stepped up as an advocate of studying abroad.  It makes my work seem a little more validated – like hey, I’m not the only one that thinks studying abroad is almost necessary for the success of our people as a community and as a country.  Thank you, Mrs. Obama and I hope to hear more about your ideas on study abroad and especially about how we can make it more accessible for those who traditionally don’t seek out those opportunities for any number of reasons.

For a full transcript of Mrs. Obama’s commencement address, click here.