Studying Abroad as an Underrepresented Student

During International Education Week, USAC alumna, Ami King alongside three of his USAC peers gave a presentation and panel discussion for students of color, first-generation students, and students with limited socioeconomic backgrounds. Let’s Get Real was an honest and real talk about studying abroad as an underrepresented student, how to make your study abroad dreams come true, and the impact that the experience has on students.

Ami King ’19, Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’m Ami King, and I led the Let’s Get Real presentation and panel discussion. As a Gilman Scholarship recipient, you’re required to do a follow-up project, and this presentation was mine. A major obstacle for many students is how to fund their study abroad. Fortunately, there are many ways to help pay and the USAC scholarship team can help students find the options for them. A few of the strategies that I took to help fund my study abroad and that I recommend to all students are

  • Choosing a more affordable program where the cost of living and housing is not as expensive
  • Using financial aid like Pell Grant, loans, and other grants/scholarships
  • Applying for every external scholarship possible (ex. Gilman, Fund for Education Abroad, Freeman Asia, etc.)  and working closely with the USAC scholarship team and your schools’ financial aid office
  • Seeing if you can find airfare cheaper than the group flight
  • Financially preparing to not work for an extended period during your study abroad
  • Creating and sticking to a budget from beginning to end

A Panel on Diversity

USAC alumni participate in a panel discussion on studying abroad as an underrepresented student
USAC alumni participate in a panel discussion on studying abroad as an underrepresented student

The presentation was followed by a panel of myself and three other USAC alumni that identified as underrepresented students. Each panelist introduced themselves and talked about their experiences abroad. We then opened the floor for questions. Answering the first question, “What was it like to be black in another country?” by another black student was a highlight of my night.

The short answer: It was hard but extremely worth it. I spent some days and nights feeling sad from a lack of belonging but that was greatly outnumbered by the days that I felt powerful and proud that I made the jump and I was living a dream. I was immersed in a new and beautiful culture, I was trying new foods, traveling, exploring, and truly living in the moment. That was my biggest takeaway. For the first time in my life, without the stress of family, school, work, and bills, I truly felt I could live in the moment and just be.

Here are some additional thoughts and stories I shared with the student and audience:

  • It was hard sometimes. There were times I was at the receiving end of questions, microaggressions, and even insensitive comments. It was common for people to take pictures of me. One time, I was mocked at a makeup store because there was not a shade dark enough for my skin tone. Another time, I was questioned about my hair and where I was “really” from because the answer of “America” wasn’t sufficient.
  • It was also extremely liberating. Being the first person in my immediate family to even own a passport, I was doing something that was outside of my comfort zone and outside of my family’s experience.
  • The representation for black people in studying abroad is low, so to go out and do it, without much to go off of gave me confidence and allowed me to tap into my own strength and potential.

Having the ability to engage with students on my experiences and how my identities impacted my study abroad was reflective and powerful. My home university, the University of Nevada, Reno is a predominantly white institution, so black students are already underrepresented, but to be able to open the perspective of studying abroad to other students of color was immensely rewarding.

It was during this presentation that I had some realizations. First, I saw myself in my fellow peers, because I too, before I left, never thought I could or would be able to study abroad. Financial restrictions, lack of support and just the overall stress and fear of studying abroad continually fought me until I stepped off the plane in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Also, this event allowed me to see my experience in a new light. As a black young woman, traveling across the world for the first time was impactful. Not only did it open my eyes, mind, and heart to new things, but it showed me that I am stronger than I thought. Every obstacle I encountered I met with determination and seeing that played out in a completely new way was eye-opening. From flying by myself (to save money) to overcoming microaggressions in a completely new way, I found something in myself every time to overcome it. I wanted that same experience and growth for every student in the audience. 

Let’s Get Real created a space where diverse students could ask other diverse students real questions and get honest and real answers. Creating the place and dialogue to do that was my goal for the event. If you have questions about studying abroad as an underrepresented student feel free to ask them in the comments on this blog. Unfortunately, study abroad is not for everyone, but if you think it could be for you, I encourage you to take the leap to make it happen.

-“There is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle”

            -Christian D. Larson

(Excerpt from my favorite quote, which helped me a lot abroad and before and now in life, and I also got it tattooed on me in Thailand)

Ami King is a dual major in Criminal Justice and Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno. Ami is an alumna of the Chiang Mai, Thailand program, as well as a first-gen student, a Black Student Organization member, pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta member, and a consultant at the University writing/speaking center.