As a person of color, specifically a Black woman, its very disheartening to go abroad and see the lack of diversity among your fellow international students. People of color should study abroad, and representation is vital in order to make that happen, but unfortunately, there is not enough of that.
Honestly, going to Stellenbosch, South Africa was definitely an eyeopening experience for me. During the first week of orientation, I did a glance over to see all the international students in the large auditorium and there were maybe five to six people who looked like me.
During that first week of moving in, one of the security guards at my residence actually told me that he has never met a Black student from America before. The more people I met, the more I realized how rare it is to be a person of color from America.
Most people I meet actually assume I’m South African, but as soon as I open my mouth they realize I’m American and that truly shocks them. It’s become so common to believe that all international students in South Africa, at least, are white students, which signals a huge problem.
Thankfully, I was able to make connections with people of color on campus. I ventured out of my comfort zone and became friends with locals and the few people of color that were international students. In South Africa, it isn’t too difficult to find people of color. However, there are still some issues with diversity in their education sector, but I was not completely alone.
Unfortunately, I think one of the big reasons many people of color do not study abroad is because we don’t see ourselves on study abroad websites as much as others. Representation is everything and we don’t have that.
Many students also believe that studying abroad is unattainable because it’s too expensive, however, we need to debunk that myth. I believed this too at first, but after talking to USAC and Gilman advisors, I realized that it’s not unattainable.
I’m a first-generation American that comes from a middle-class Ethiopian-American family, so I really didn’t think studying abroad was an option for me. I kept wondering how I could ever study abroad because I definitely wasn’t making enough money at my job and I knew my parents could not afford it, but I figured out SCHOLARSHIPS was actually the key to affording everything.
Apply to everything and anything! You never know what you could get, so your best bet is to just try.
If you are planning on studying abroad, apply for the Gilman! There are a variety of guides on the Gilman website that can assist you with the application process, so it won’t be too difficult to navigate. USAC also has a variety of resources available that I’ve linked to below:
If you’re a fellow person of color and you’re reading this blog post, please don’t get discouraged. People of color should study abroad. Studying abroad is accessible, you just need to plan ahead and talk to advisors.
Heaven Ayele is a University of Nevada, Reno student and studied abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2020. You can read more about her time abroad on her blog.