Decolonizing Study Abroad Through Cultural Heritage Programs with Markus S.

Dive into our Q&A with EF Product Development Manager, Markus S. on his SXSW EDU panel, highlighting HBCU students and faculty’s experiences in Black-focused study abroad programs. This session explored international education as a tool for BIPOC students to connect with their heritage and discussed ways to decolonize and diversify study abroad.

What were some of the personal learnings that you gained planning this panel discussion?

Preparing for the SXSW session was a good learning opportunity for me to hear from both the program leader and student prospective on the planning of faculty-led programs as they relate to the Black experience and cultural heritage. 

Ariyana G., a student from Morgan State University joined us on the panel. Ariyana participated in EF’s Black Experience in Europe program, and it was especially cool to hear about the program’s impact on her. 

I also appreciated being able to dig into some of the data around study abroad trends related to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Having this data paired with direct conversations with faculty planning a program like the Black Experience was very informative for me as a program development manager. 

Speaking of digging into the data, according to IIE’s latest Open Doors report, Black or African American students accounted for only 5.3% of the students who went on study abroad programs in 2021/22. What could be some of the reasons behind this?

It’s unfortunate because between 2017-2019 we were seeing that number climbing upwards. We can’t ignore the impact of COVID, especially on student groups who are already in vulnerable situations. 

When we think about the challenges of getting more BIPOC and Black students to participate in international education experiences we also have to think about what it means to be a part of one of these groups in the United States and the unique set of challenges students with this identity may face.   

There are so many gates, finances, the design of the program, external support, between students who have a desire to participate in these experiences and then those who actually participate. When we think about support, it is not just family support related to finances but of being supportive and passing on knowledge of the experience of studying abroad.

If you’re a Black student or student of color considering studying abroad, you may already be thinking it’s financially inaccessible. And if you’re also not feeling that support to travel from your community, it’s almost a no-brainer that you won’t travel. Even if there are opportunities available on your campus to study abroad, you may feel they are not designed for you, because they often are not.

How can institutions and program providers help students overcome these challenges?

It was great to hear from Ariyana, the student voice on our panel. I asked her what tangible things that universities could do to really think about opening opportunities and lifting some of these gates. Her number one was funding options, both scholarships and payment plans. These programs can be expensive, traveling can be expensive. Being able to plan ahead for these costs can really minimize the impact and make it feel more achievable.  

Another pillar for her was pre-departure support. In person information sessions, guides to packing essentials, passport services. Many of these students haven’t traveled extensively in their childhood and institutions and providers can’t assume they already have this sort of knowledge.  

What impact can communication on campus have in opening access?

It’s incredibly important to promote the benefit of these experiences. We need to have the advisors and student workers who are in front of students daily explaining these opportunities to them—that it’s not just a life changing experience but it can also contribute to their academics and have a positive impact on their futures. That level of support is necessary to help these students feel like they can participate in these experiences. 

What do you want someone to take away from this session?

We need to recognize what the student populations are looking for—in destinations, themes and credit challenges. You can’t recognize those things if you’re not listening. 

I think there is a series of things that every provider and every university can think about that would help all students who are facing any sort of challenges or barriers. There is a lot we can do to increase accessibility to these programs with a little bit of time, elbow grease, commitment and collaboration. I look forward to seeing how universities and providers like EF work together to find solutions that increase access and belonging for all students on international education programs 

You can listen to Markus’ full session, Decolonizing Study Abroad Through Cultural Heritage Programs here. 

You can learn more about EF Study Abroad’s Black Experience in Europe program here.