One of my biggest intentions for this blog is to promote study abroad to my readers, but in specific, to my fellow Latino students. Now more than ever, it is immensely important to expand your overall education by taking a semester abroad! There is so much to see and so much to gain, and it can be one of the most life-changing experiences of your life, trust me. I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Greece for almost 3 months as an undergrad, and I can tell you that experience was one of the best ones I’ve ever had, for both personal and professional reasons. According to this report I found on Knowledge Without Borders.org, originally by the Institute of International Education said that in a population of 304,000 students from across a variety of higher education institutions in the U.S, the percentage of Latino students who studied abroad in the 2013-2014 school year was 8%. Latinos are sandwiched in between white students who took the lead with 74% represented abroad and only 6% African American students. Although it’s not 100% clear which institutions these students were taken from, or other details about the pool of students, it’s a quick snapshot to give you an idea of the frequency in which Latino’s study abroad. It’s not a competition to see who’s ethnic group is out and about taking classes in Prague but rather, my aim is to encourage more Latino students to join the meaningful travel experience. As we can see, the percentages show quite a drop from white students to Latinos, and the reasons could range from cultural impediments to financial constraints. If you want to check out my take on common reasons Latinos don’t study abroad, head on over there and take a look before reading this post! I want to help you see for yourself all that study abroad can bring you if we can get around the top common reasons as to why not many of us go abroad! If you’re into this idea or would like to learn more, continue on to read my top 5 essential reasons as to why YOU as a Latin American student must study abroad.
See the world
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends” – Maya Angelou. This is somthing I couldn’t agree with more if I tried. To see the world means to see at first hand what the news media, people, and textbooks try to inform you of all your life. It’s your chance to encounter people of different cultures, ways of life, to learn from them, and aknowledge them. In a world where hate is created by ignorance and bigotry from people with huge platforms and followings, it’s easy to sink into what they want to feed you rather than you questioning and coming up with your own conclusions. I think that it’s imperative that we leave our comfort zones to dive into a new cultural environment where we can learn and observe at first hand different things, that in the end, may not even seem so different from you and I. Sometimes in order to really understand soemething, you have to try it out for yourself and reading about it can only get you so far. The world is full of beautiful sights, delicious food, interesting people, different smells, and amazing discoveries and history. Also, It’s pretty amazing to see so many amazing ruins and famous landmarks in person, rather than from a book or a screen. It’s not the same to read about the the Parthenon for instance than to actually walk around and in it! You realize so many things about the world and yourself once you’re out there encountering so many firsts. The world awaits.
Grow and appreciate
Regardless if you are Latina/o, or of a different background, going abroad as an undergrad can change your perspective and help you create your opinions, and solidify your values. However as Latina/o students who are always involved and invested with our families, we must learn to be ok with our own company, we must learn how to take care of ourselves, and at the same time, learn to appreciate all of ours as well as our parent’s sacrifices to get us to this point. As a first generation Latina student, I’ve always had it clear that my family was and is my rock, and that without them, I don’t know how I could have managed college without their support. When I was studying abroad in Greece, that was the first time I had ever been living on my own, in a foreign country, and without my parents being readily available. There were days when we were so busy, I didn’t even have time to think about my family or how much I missed them, but then there were other times when missing them crept up, especially when we traveled around Greece, saw the sea, and the amazing ruins. I couldn’t help but think how my mom would gape at the sight of the Acropolis lit up at night, or my dad’s amazement at the sight of the blue Aegean Sea as we took the ferries to Santorini and Mykonos. If you decide to study abroad (which I hope you do!) I’m sure you will have an instance similar to this, however it’s moments like these that should make us think and be grateful instead of sad. Grateful for the experience to live out a reality like this, for ourselves and our family. Make it worth it all!
Represent our heritage
This is a good one. Many people abroad have different ideas about us Latinos, whether you’re Mexican- American, Venezuelan-American, Colombian-American, etc. It’s definitely a good idea to keep in mind that many times, you are people’s first impression of where you come from. Especially us since we are (insert Latin American country)-American, we are carrying two cultures abroad, and we have to be proud to carry our heritage with dignity. I remember when I was in Greece, on our walks especially in rurual areas, we often found nopales (my little Mexican heart beamed from happiness to see something so familiar in a land so far away from home). I asked my Greek professor if they ate them here too, and he gave me the strangest look. Turns out they don’t, they don’t do anything with it. He asked me cautiously if I’ve eaten it, to which of course I said YESS! Long story short, I explained to him that people in Mexico actually don’t eat the cactus leaves with the thorns (which was his biggest question), and I explained how it’s typically prepared and eaten. All of which by the look on his face, he seemed both intrigued and in mild disbelief but regardless, he learned something new about my heritage and about this plant they have all over Greece. It’s fun to open yourself up and share things about yourself to locals, it can even help you diminish homesickness for a bit because of how interested people are to learn about you and where you come from. People are genuinely interested, and you’ll be surprised by the similarities there are between your traditions and your host country’s 🙂
Personally and professionally stand out
I will be talking more in depth about connecting study abroad experiences into job skills in a post that will come in the near future, but I’ll talk about it briefly here too. It’s nothing new that being bilingual in English and Spanish in the U.S is an advantage in life and our resumes, but imagine your study abroad experience translated into work skills. Completely do-able! Those times abroad that you have to figure out alternative ways to get to class because the bus decided not to come by on time…problem solving skills! That time you had to communicate with a waiter abroad in creative ways because of the language barrier….patience AND communication skills with limited English speakers! Overall having study abroad on your resume tells an employer that you have first hand experience with cultural awareness as well as adaptability into any work environment. This is just the tip of the iceberg because everything you learned and experienced says a lot about you as an individual; perseverance, goal-oriented, and problem-solver. Add bilingual to the mix, your hard-earned degree, and you’ve just become a competitive employee on the job market. There’s no stopping you now!
Bring your travel knowledge back home
All those experiences of getting lost and finding your way back, seeing for yourself a new culture, and participating in the day-to-day life abroad has earned you a great amount of travel wisdom as well as credentials when speaking about relevant topics. When you come back home, you come back with a wealth of knowledge, backed up with stories and personal experiences which is truly something that no one can ever take away from you. It’s sort of like the gift that keeps giving because you learned life skills that you’re going to use forever. As I already mentioned, not only does having study abroad experience broaden your horizons, but it also broadens your professionalism to prospective employers. Imagine after so much sacrafice from both you and your family for you to study abroad, and coming back with a better understanding of the world and a realization that “we” aren’t so different from “them.” You aren’t the only ones to open your eyes to this reality as your families will also gain benefit to that as you share your experiences and realizations with them. Knowledge is power, and our gente needs it. I think we should change those statistics and we should raise the topic of study abroad amongst our family circles more and more. The more we do it, the more we can begin to normalize it for Latino generations to come. For now, it’s really essential to your personal growth that you absorb everything you can to demonstrate upon your return with loved ones. Vamos, que si se puede!!
If you’ve found this post helpful and/or relatable, let me know in the comments! The reasons I came up with for this post are ones that I’ve either gone through myself, or ones that I have heard friends go through. I’d love to also hear from you if you came across any of these challenges when you were planning on going abroad, or if you’re still not sure about going abroad.
Knowledge Without Borders. 2016. Ask a First Generation Student: Diversity and Study Abroad: http://knowwithoutborders.org/ask-a-first-generation-student-diversity-and-study-abroad/