The Stigma with Students of Color and Study Abroad

Aidan Dennis
August 31, 2017

Study abroad wasn’t just an option for me. I came in as a bright eyed freshman expecting a study abroad experience. I knew I wanted it and I was going to make it a reality regardless. Naively, I assumed that this was a goal of everyone. Who wouldn’t want to spend an entire semester learning in the abode of another country, being able to absorb it’s culture through your pores through food, language and society? The thought of not studying abroad was asinine to me… then I considered the thoughts of others.

Some of my friends expressed regard for safety - especially since I decided to study abroad in South America. Given the political economy at the moment, it was a fair concern. There’s barely a sense of safety in the United States as a person of color… why take yourself outside of the United States?

It wasn’t until recently that I found myself second guessing my decision and stepping into the shoes of some of my concerned friends.

I found myself Googling terms akin to “Black students in Buenos Aires”, “Where can a black male get my haircut in Buenos Aires?”, “African history in Argentina” - and sort of disappointed by my results. I came across blogs reporting Buenos Aires to be the most racist city ever and posts explaining horrible attitudes. Then I came across ones that explained Argentine culture and what could of have led to these misconceptions. These experiences were positive and showed a learning experience on both ends.

But you learn a lot about culture. From my research I learned that in Argentina if you have dark skin, it is not uncommon for you to be referred to as morocho/a. It's not meant to be derogatory or offensive - it's just embedded into their culture. It’s a regular practice in Argentina to use appearances as terms of endearment and nicknames. Skinner friends will get referred to as flaca and larger ones as gordo. This is something that would definitely be seen as taboo in the United States.

There’s also the fact that study abroad typically isn’t something that students of color do… especially men at that. According to NAFSA, only 5.6% of students studying abroad in 2014-2015 were African American or Black. Out of all of the students studying abroad, only 33% were men. This just shows how underrepresented black men are in study abroad opportunities.

I understand that there can be a financial strain too. I am lucky enough to attend a school that has a vested interest in wanting their students to succeed when studying abroad. I received grants from both my study abroad and home institutions. The government makes its own effort - budgeting up to $250,000 of scholarship money for students in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that are interested in studying abroad. The U.S. Department of State's Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is also another option for students who are Pell Grant eligible. I am currently a recipient of this scholarship and it has definitely made my semester abroad more accessible. While this may not be everyone’s reality, you can definitely take advantage of cities with cheaper costs of living, doing a homestay, packing lightly… there’s a lot of options.

Nonetheless, I understand the fear. I’m scared myself. I’m terrified of what’s to come on my semester abroad… and that excites me. I know there are a lot of open doors ahead of me and it’s going to be a tolling experience that will develop me and my cross-cultural communication skills. By immersing myself with the culture, I can be aptly prepared personally, academically and professionally. I know there are many challenges that I am going to have to overcome, but I am equipped to take them on. For example, I know I will have to get used to feeling like an outsider in both of the countries I will study in. I will have to step outside of my comfort zone and get used to the transition period as I try to get a grasp on the cultural norms and expectations of either Argentina or Chile. I know a strong way to cope with cultural misunderstands is to observe and not be afraid to ask questions.

If you’re a student of color reading this and have ever had qualms about studying abroad, I urge you to apply! If you’re just another reader who is ready to read about my journey through Argentina, Peru and Chile… thank you and welcome :)

Aidan Dennis

<p>I'm a New York City born and Long Island raised lover of food, travel and culture who currently goes to college right outside of Boston, Massachusetts! One of my favorite hobbies has to be reading and I spend every summer dedicating myself to a very intensive reading list.</p>

Home University:
Babson College
Long Island, NY
Business Administration
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