Institute for Global Studies Addresses Lack of Diversity in Study Abroad

Talia Brookstein-Burke/THE

Students participating in the forum explain their experiences with study abroad.

Staff Reporter

The Institute for Global Studies held a student forum on Wednesday regarding the experiences of traditionally underrepresented study abroad students, telling audience members that they should not let worries of discrimination prevent them from pursuing opportunities to take classes in another country.

With over 100 study abroad programs and almost one-third of the student body participating in a study abroad experience during their time at the university, the Institute for Global Studies has made a name for itself as a national leader in study abroad, as reported by the Princeton Review.

Despite the number of university students venturing to different countries, there is a lack of diversity in those who go abroad. Moderator Bianca Mers, the co-president of Delaware Diplomats and an international relations major, said that of the university’s students who study abroad, 80% are female, and the majority major in soft sciences, such as psychology and health behavior science, or the humanities.

This is a national trend in which students of color, men, people of the LGBTQ+ community and first-generation college students are underrepresented in the study abroad community, Mers said.

Mers acknowledged that while study abroad seems accessible to everyone on paper, the trends suggest there are barriers and apprehensions that make it otherwise. The event, co-sponsored by the Delaware Diplomats Program, Blue Hen Global Connection, Black Student Union and HOLA, brought together five undergraduates who have studied abroad and are members of underrepresented demographics.

Shannon Wade, a senior studying international business and marketing, studied in Barcelona, Spain, last spring. Wade, whose parents are originally from Jamaica, is a first-generation American. Wade knew she wanted to study abroad coming into college, but she was worried about potential racial tensions that could arise depending on where she chose to study.

“Being a black woman going to a predominantly white country, I was very interested in how that would go,” Wade said. “I remember doing research beforehand, about how I’d be received in Barcelona. Luckily I didn’t have any racially charged incidents, and that was kind of one of my concerns.”

Kelly James, a public policy and woman and gender studies major who studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary, also felt apprehensive regarding how she would be received in different countries as a gay woman.

“When factoring my identity with choosing my country, Hungary’s a pretty conservative country, and I definitely had to do some research to see if this was a safe place to go because there are a lot of countries in the world where you can get imprisoned for not being straight,” James said.

Despite her initial hesitation, James ultimately avoided any homophobic incidents, and she explored Hungary and much of Europe with friends she made during the trip without fearing her identity would prevent her from enjoying her time abroad.

Erica Chiorazzi, a sophomore studying international relations who attended the event, found the student panel to be informative regarding how many concerns people face when deciding whether or not to study abroad.

“When I was thinking about studying abroad, the only thing I was thinking about was money, so I didn’t realize other people have different concerns,” Chiroazzi said, “It’s important to be sensitive and think about what other people have.”

The panelists also addressed familiar fears surrounding study abroad, from missing family and friends to funding the trip. The common theme among all the student speakers was that, while those fears are valid and real, they should not hold students back from pursuing the opportunity to study abroad.

Nikki Laws, the communication specialist for the Institute for Global Studies who aided in organizing the event, spoke to the benefits of having students lead the panel directly.

“For students to hear directly from other students about all the reasons to study abroad, and there are so many reasons, is really important,” Laws said. “I learn new things every time I hear students talk, so it’s good for people like me to kind of hear what students and saying and doing and experiencing.”

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