This blog was written for Diversity Abroad, as part of the Diversity Abroad Task Force on Race & Ethnicity (2016). Here I provide an overview of some of the issues that students of color face when they are abroad and somethings that we can do to prepare and address these issues.
While more students of color are enrolling at higher rates in U.S. colleges, their presence in study abroad programs has not, unfortunately, kept up with their gains in enrollment. Indeed, research has shown that students of color are sorely underrepresented in study abroad programs, with less than 10% attending a study abroad program (Sweeney, 2013). This is unfortunate as the National Survey of Student Engagement has noted that study abroad is an important high impact practice for students in higher education (Kuh, 2008). This is particularly the case for students of color who, when they do go abroad, experience a number of positive gains, and have a greater likelihood of graduating from college than their peers who did not go abroad (Malmgren & Galvin, 2008; Metzger, 2006).
Yet, although there are benefits of study abroad, this experience can also pose a number of difficulties for students of color. In particular, small qualitative studies, as well as anecdotal accounts, point to painful discriminatory experiences that students of color may have when they study abroad which can negatively impact their cultural adjustment (Shelton, 2001; Talburt & Stewart, 1999). Thus, it is important to be aware of such experiences, especially as study abroad often occurs during adolescence and young adulthood, which are key times in identity development.
To help illustrate issues that may arise, consider the following scenarios based on the real experiences of students of color abroad: