Though an unprecedented amount of American students are choosing to study abroad today, the number of minority students involved in study abroad programs is not rising proportionately. According to a recent study by the Institute of International Education, minority students make up a small percentage of people who decide to study abroad. Black students only account for five percent of students studying abroad. It seems the opportunities study abroad offers has no boundaries, except possibly for the race of students who participate in it.
I first realized this during my spring break trip to Poros, Greece. My three girlfriends and I boarded the ferry from Athens that would take us to a small island for our day trip. We wondered why everyone kept looking at us. Granted, the four of us were headed to a lesser-known island during its off-season on a random Thursday morning. But we kept getting stares.
When we docked at the island and got settled, we soon realized that along with being almost the only tourists there we were clearly the only black people as well.
As we walked around the island, every local warmly welcomed us. At a family-owned restaurant the wife and husband owner were so hospitable and gave us pita bread and dessert on the house. A waiter in another restaurant directed us to the best bars in town. The man who owned the hotel we stayed in made dozens of arrangements for us.
Yet most of the people we encountered couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that four black girls from L.A. were in Greece. I let it go. I didn’t think too much about it. I headed back to London that next day where I’m studying abroad and continued my schoolwork.
When it comes to the demographics of those who study abroad, there is a lack of representation for minority students across the board. An Institute of International Education’s study states that minority students — which includes Asian, Latino and African American students — comprise 20 percent of U.S. students who study abroad. These demographics are not representative of most college campuses. For example, at the University of Southern California, U.S. minority students make up 35 percent of the student body.
Some experts are arguing that the already small percentage of minority students traveling abroad might be remaining stagnant because of economic factors. For example, in the past school year, 92 percent of black students received some form of financial aid from the government compared to 77 percent of White students. Due to the extra costs of traveling and sometimes increased costs of living conditions — particularly in the U.K.– it lessens the likelihood for students of color to afford traveling abroad.
Jillian Baker, an African American student at the University of Southern California, said she opted out of study abroad during her junior year because the study abroad cities were too expensive and they didn’t cater to her interests.
“I couldn’t afford the programs offered for my major, such as London and China,” she said. “I didn’t want to study abroad just to say I did so.” . . .