Studying abroad can be daunting. For both first-time and experienced minority travelers alike, the emotional intensity of immersing oneself in a foreign culture requires pre-departure preparation beyond what is generally provided by host programs and institutions. For students of color like myself, an effort must be made to help diverse students unpack their experiences abroad. Below are some tips I’ve devised based on my study abroad experience in France.
Consider the role of current events.
With an influx of populations from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years, French politics have experienced a surge in extreme right-wing groups known for inflammatory racial propos, radical anti-immigration policies, and calls for cultural preservation at the expense of modernization and tolerance. Life in France under these circumstances for me meant being followed in stores because of my skin color, or submitted to drug exams on public transportation because I’m perceived to be Arab.
Provide individualized staff support.
Minority students thus find themselves susceptible to racially and/or politically motivated conflicts during what should be a fun cultural immersion experience abroad. For me, having a resident counselor or health director who is sensitive to social, cultural, and racial differences was extremely important to creating a safe space on campus; one which encouraged students to advocate for themselves. Ideally, this counselor could provide pre-departure support and awareness training, assess host family placements, and help bridge cultural misunderstandings.
Hire diverse faculty and staff.
Many students of color are more comfortable speaking to those with whom they share relatable experiences, so having diverse faculty can be critical to creating a positive and supportive environment. Knowing there are diverse faculty on site would make study abroad programs would become more attractive for prospective minority students because they have someone that could relate to their experiences.
Incorporate cross-cultural reflection into the classroom.
Because studying abroad is such a formative experience, students may be more receptive to challenging their preconceived notions while they’re abroad more than they would at their home institutions. Programs should use their resources to incorporate racial and cross-cultural awareness and communication training to their curricula.
It is so important for study abroad programs to prepare diverse students for how their reality in France may differ from the ‘common’ study abroad experience of their white peers. Students of color should be able to access additional resources made available both before and during their time abroad, such as on-site mentors, cross-cultural communication seminars, and internal counseling. My own transition to France would have been much easier had I access to such a support network.
Authored by: Trixie Cordova