In 2012, students from Morehouse College, a historically black all-male college in Atlanta, participated in a two-week study abroad trip to Bangkok, Thailand, where they helped restore a community previously affected by flood.
Their time spent abroad was chronicled in the documentary “The Experience: Bangkok, Thailand,” which opened the “Black and Abroad” event Monday in the Marshall Student Center.
Sponsored by the USF Education Abroad office, the event aimed to attract and educate black students about the possibility of studying abroad.
“Study abroad is universal. You learn to be independent, adaptable, you learn about different cultures, new languages,” said Tanisha Pierrette, a GloBull Ambassador for the Education Abroad office.
Of all USF study abroad students, only 6.4 percent are black students, making them the most underrepresented demographic in the study abroad program.
“This is a very focused event to target black students on campus,” said Chris Haynes, student program coordinator for Education Abroad. “As you can tell, we don’t have a high number of those students studying abroad. Being black history month, it just fit perfectly.”
Pierrette, who studied abroad in Costa Rica, told the audience about her experiences traveling and living in a predominantly Hispanic community as a black woman. Explaining how her host mother kept touching her hair, puzzled at the sight of braids, she realized there were little to no black people, but she saw it as an opportunity to teach her host family something new.
Pierrette addressed a possible explanation for the lack of black students participating in study abroad.
“I think a big problem is fear, the fear of sticking out and being different,” she said, emphasizing that students shouldn’t let fear rule their decision to participate in study abroad.
As an underrepresented group, the event focused on the potential benefits and outcomes of studying abroad.
“The importance is to get jobs, this is a great way to stand out from the crowd and it’s a resume booster,” Haynes said. “Study abroad is for everybody, not just white females or white males, it’s for everybody. Getting a job, that’s why you go to school, that’s why you’re here, and this is one way that we can help that sector of students get jobs and stand out. It’s important on all levels for that.”
Sharing their unique experiences traveling around the world and being black students in culturally different countries, several students participated in a discussion board. One student spent a semester in Korea, another spent a year in England, two students spent their summers in Ghana and Costa Rica and one student spent a semester at sea living on a boat. There was also a graduate student who was a single mother who studied abroad for a month in Brazil.
Nía Bryant, a sophomore majoring in pre-nursing, spent last summer studying abroad in Costa Rica and shared her experiences with other students, while taking away a renewed motivation to continue her travels.
“(This event) provided insight for me by listening to others’ experiences which could be used as a basis for my decision to study abroad again,” Bryant said.
A primary concern expressed by participating students of the event was an issue of finance, as many felt they were incapable of affording an education abroad.
“There are a ton of resources. Education abroad, we have our own scholarships that we issue out to students so they can take advantage of those opportunities,” Haynes said. “A lot of financial aid, grants and scholarships will transfer over to study abroad, a lot of students just don’t know that. Giving them those tools, giving them those resources allows them to make study abroad a reality.”
Kiara Palmer, a freshman majoring in studio art, said she never considered studying abroad before Monday.
“After listening to the testimonies, I totally want to go. I barely considered it before but now I really want to do it,” she said. “I was convinced I couldn’t afford it until they said it could be affordable and they can help you work through the cost with scholarships. That’s what made me realize it can be a possibility.”