Studying Abroad: Spelman Outpaces National Average for Minorities

Spelman College Summer Study Abroad Program in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in 2013
Photo credit: Erica Lorraine Williams, Ph.D.
According to the Spelman College Gordon-Zeto Center for Global Education, which oversees the Study Abroad Office, a record-breaking 277 students traveled to 18 countries during summer 2016. All total, more than 400 Spelman students traveled to 35 countries during the 2015-2016 academic year compared to 218 participants just four years ago – demonstrating sustained growth of the study abroad program and underscoring the importance of global education in students’ overall educational experience.

Spelman College Study Abroad Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Lizette Terry, C’2017, and her peers during a study abroad trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Spelman is outpacing the national average in the number of African-American students studying abroad. A 2015 “Open Doors Report” by the Institute of International Education determined African Americans comprised just 5.6 percent of U.S. college students who participated in study abroad programs during the 2013-2014 academic year. During that same period, 20 percent of Spelman’s 2,100 students studied abroad in 43 countries, and 71 percent of the class of 2015 had a global travel experience.

“The phenomenal increase in the number of Spelman students participating in global travel experience reaffirms the College’s mission statement that aims at engaging students with the ‘many cultures of the world,’” said Dimeji Togunde, Ph.D., associate provost for global education at the Gordon-Zeto Center.

Dr. Togunde anticipates growth of the study abroad program will continue during the 2016-2017 academic year. Under his leadership, the Study Abroad Office employs a multifaceted strategy that has led to the expansion of the program.

Five Reasons Spelman College Excels in Study Abroad:

1. The College is committed to breaking down the barrier of cost by financially supporting students with study abroad scholarships drawn mostly from the proceeds of a $17 million endowment for international initiatives.

2. There is a strong infrastructure in place to coordinate all of the elements of the program due to the support of the College’s senior administration.

3. The Center has forged mutually beneficial relationships with international partners, including the Council on International Educational Exchange, to help reduce costs and support the infrastructure of the program.

4. The College incorporated a goal in its 2010-2017 Strategic Plan to provide an opportunity for every student to have an international travel experience, which supports Spelman’s Quality Enhancement Plan, a centerpiece of the College’s reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

5. There is a high level of faculty engagement in integrating study abroad into course materials, fueling growth of faculty-led programs. As a result, 22 study-travel programs have been created through collaboration between faculty members and the Center over the past five years.

“Our faculty are committed to the College’s internationalization agenda because they know that when students study abroad it is a life-altering experience that gives them transformative and transferable knowledge – preparing them for success as future professionals with an appreciation for intercultural variation and cultural differences,” Dr. Togunde said.

The Spelman study abroad experience is tailored to help students develop into critical-thinking global leaders who can navigate diverse global cultural landscapes as well as an increasingly interdependent, complex and competitive global village.

“I studied in Morocco this past spring and that on-the-ground experience substantially contributed to my goal of being a cultural anthropologist,” said Connie Appiah, C’2018, who plans to study in France and Cameroon before graduating. “Studying abroad makes me think more conscientiously about other cultures and gives me critical reflection on the privileges I enjoy as an American. I have no doubt that studying in two more countries in the coming year will provide me even more opportunities for intellectual discovery.”

Spelman students also gain a myriad of benefits that enrich life skills such as intercultural understanding.

“I was majoring in biology but after studying abroad, I changed my major to women’s studies in order to examine the intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality,” said Lizette Terry, C’2017, who recently completed study in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. “My plan is to use my degree and study abroad experiences to become a documentary filmmaker as a way of building understanding among people of different cultures.”

The Center is currently working on a number of initiatives that will ensure continued momentum of the program. The Center is collaborating with the Student Affairs Global Engagement program to prepare a group of students for travel in the coming academic year to Barcelona, Spain. In December 2016, the Center, in partnership with the Education Studies Program, will lead a group of Spelman students to Cuba for the second time since normalization of relations between the two countries. There are plans to offer students a new program in Trinidad and Tobago that will focus on global health, with an emphasis on emerging infections and chronic diseases. Students will also have an opportunity to travel to Hamburg, Germany, to study worldwide Christianity.

Also planned for the upcoming academic year are intensified safety instructions for students as an added safety measure in the wake of several international terrorism incidents and infectious disease concerns, such as Zika, over the summer.

“We have very strong safety protocols in place for international travel,” said Dr. Togunde. “To ensure maximum safety, students are required to take a seminar that prepares them for general safety precautions for their country of destination, provides country-specific information, and offers guidance about the cultural aspects of the country they will visit. Students are required to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service offered by the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Also, we do not allow students to travel to countries that are on the U.S. Department of State’s warning list.”

Dr. Togunde added that in keeping with Spelman’s mission, the Center will continue to broaden opportunities for students and faculty to increase their international exposure and global competency.

“Studying abroad taught me how to be open-minded, a critical thinker, and how to see life through a new hue, which is essential to establishing race relations in our global community,” said Terry. “I learned that while barriers like culture, language, and values do exist within the realm of international communities, with some experience, exposure, and immersion, those barriers could be broken.”

Source: Audrey Arthur, Spelman College

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