Preparing the Next Generation
of Global Leaders

Navigating the Lack of Representation in International Affairs

Posted on September 27, 2020

My entire career path was forged from my dream of being a nomad. As a child, I thought maybe I could be a stewardess. However, in my adolescence, my political consciousness awakened and I decided to combine my love for travel and politics. That’s how I landed here, in my senior year studying international affairs and world languages, aiming to be a diplomat. My goal is to spend my entire career, as a black woman, abroad. This year, a lot of doors opened for me, professionally. I’m really proud of my accomplishments and grateful for the opportunities. However, with each new milestone, I find myself placed with a new pool of people. With each new batch, it feels like the number of people who look like me, black/people of color, are shrinking.

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Until recently, I have felt privileged to be in those spaces, it’s hard to get your foot indoor, especially for opportunities related to travel and international studies. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily because the opportunity is hard to get or based on strict criteria, it’s simply an issue of marketing and access. For example, during my first experience studying abroad, there were 3 black students in a group of 50+ students. My experience was not unique, many of my BIPOC/POC peers (across academic institutions) often discuss this as an issue. I worked as a counselor for a company that curated study abroad programs, talking to BIPOC/POC students, I found out that many were simply unaware of certain scholarship/travel opportunities or simply didn’t believe that they could go abroad. Their lack of belief is a marketing issue, if they don’t believe they could be global citizens, the idea wasn’t sold hard enough.

Additionally, past recreational/education based global experiences, lies career-based global experiences. As a senior, studying international affairs, a field that churns out bureaucrats and diplomats, I have had only 2 classes where I wasn’t the only black student or the only person of color in the class. Opportunities seem to be marketed towards the middle class/upper-class white students; prestigious opportunities at that. Funny enough, in my 4-year college career, I happened to stumble upon certain opportunities as I got admitted into more white spaces, I learned about different programs from my white cohorts, for whom it was common knowledge. In fact, I did an application for a big international fellowship and I was told that it was good that I was applying because it didn’t look good that they hadn’t any POC applicants in the last cycle. That’s not a good thing, I didn’t feel special. There’s a strange type of gatekeeping that happens in my field that seems to disproportionately affect BIPOC/POCs. Isn’t there a flaw in marketing if not a single POC knows about your travel grant or fellowship?

Diversity abroad means giving access to people to allow them to have global experiences but past that, it means that career fields that monopolize on globality should have the responsibility of curating an inclusive image. That’s why diplomats and embassies are so important, they are the face that everyone else uses to imagine what your country is like. In literal spaces of internationality, like universities or embassies, there should be people that reflect the fact that the world is full of all different types of people. Everyone should have access to the mere belief that they can be globally involved.

Author: Oisakhose Aghomo

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