Updated March 2021
Study abroad is often times the first travel experience for many individuals, and students in specific, including Latino students. In fact, for many Latino students, it may not only be a first in their lives as individuals, but also a first in their family.
Travel – being such an imperative experience to many people, as it can often lead to transformation, clarity and/or questioning, and awareness, amongst other things, I speak and share my experience with some of the common hurdles surrounding being able to study abroad as a Latino student. My hope is that through this post, I will be able to share not only the common reasons as to what some common reasons are that hold some Latino students back but how we can turn it around to help more Latino students to explore the world, through study abroad and beyond.
Latino students and study abroad – one experience
As much as I talk and preach about how much studying abroad during my undergrad helped me in more ways than one, I think it’s also important to discuss that although I was so set on wanting to study abroad in Greece, it wasn’t the easiest topic to bring up and convince my parents about. I was a first-generation, Latino student in college and the eldest daughter to my parents who immigrated to the U.S some 25-26 years ago. Study abroad was a crazy idea to them, and they’d let me know on more than a few occasions after bringing up the topic.
I remember wanting to go abroad so bad, and though they’d never heard of such a thing, they finally let me go after my constant convincing. To this day, my parents have told me on repeated occasions how happy and proud they are of me that I was determined to study abroad, and the changes they saw in me upon returning.
The only reason why I am sharing this is because I’ve noticed with my own experience and with some of my Latino student friends the similar issues we come across when we bring this topic of study abroad to our families. It’s similar and cultural reasons that though other people who aren’t sons or daughters of Latin American immigrants can relate, they are ones that we go through and sometimes they end up being the reasons why some Latino students don’t go abroad, to begin with.
Spending a semester soaking up a different culture, trying different foods, and having classes in a different city is a tempting idea to many, but oftentimes our parent’s lack of awareness and cultural norms inhibit Latino students to move forward with those plans.
It is important that if you find yourself in a situation where you would like to go abroad, but you can’t for one reason or another, that you talk to someone about what can be done to help you overcome these adversities as well as know who to talk to. A good place to start is your study abroad office, but if there is a specific area that your parents are concerned with, such as financing the trip itself, communicating to the financial aid office about your situation could bring you some help and some clarity to your parents.
Many times you can be discouraged from doing certain things because you either keep to yourself, think that isn’t a possibility because of your own thoughts, and because you go to the wrong people or you don’t ask around to more than one person. If you are planning on possibly going abroad, but find yourself struggling to find a way, keep reading this post to see these impediments and what I think can be done!
Lack of awareness – Pero hija/o porque te vas a estudiar tan lejos!?
For us first-generation, Latino students it seems like we are always learning. Not just from school, but also how to maintain ourselves up to par with the rest of our classmates who have had generations living in the States. Additionally, in some cases, some of our parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college and thus were not exposed to the different steps and opportunities available within higher education.
As a result, study abroad is not a topic that gets thrown around within our family circle unless we are the ones to bring it up, and if we do bring it up, we can expect a long slew of questions:
Why do you want to study so far away?
Why can’t you just stay here?
You go to a good university already!
Why do you want to go more into debt?
That’s so expensive are you crazy!?
The list goes on. If studying abroad is an idea and a goal you have and it’s not something that you’ve heard growing up, it can be a hard thing to expose your parents to and teach them about especially as you may also be trying to learn more about it as you go, like it was in my case.
My recommendation is to do your research as soon as you start to find interest in possibly seeing yourself studying in a new city and bring up the topic frequently with your family. Gather as much information about a specific program you’re interested in, and become prepared to answer questions (think of it as an important class presentation).
Here, I think it’s just really important to be able to sprinkle the idea of study abroad by bringing up programs, benefits, examples of students you know that have already gone and what they think about it. All in an effort to make the topic become something not as foreign to them…no pun intended 🙂
Familial responsibilities – Hija/o todo suena bien, pero te necesitamos para que_______
I understand that there are some of you out there that have families that rely on you for things even while away at college, and going abroad can hinder that help towards your family.
As Latino students, we have responsibilities with our families that others may not get. I mean, we were the ones who learned how to make doctor’s appointments for our parents on the phone before we probably learned biology.
I’m not going to pretend to sit up here and tell you what to do with certain obligations you may have or things you may be helping your family with. But what I am going to tell you is that if this is your case, there are some programs out there that allow you to have that immersive experience, just condensed into a few weeks or a month.
Going abroad doesn’t mean that you have to disappear for a whole semester, or worse a year if that’s not a possibility for you. You don’t even have to go during the school year if you can’t do that. There are programs such as this one by CSA to study French culture and language in Paris for 4 weeks during the summer months, and yes you can earn college credit. The program is $1,595 AND they accept your financial aid package…win!
Definitely consult your study abroad center at your home institution to find other options for you; you can choose to either do a traditional study abroad where you take courses at a foreign university, or you can decide to volunteer abroad or do another type of service work that can adjust to your lifestyle.
Doing some research like this will help you start to bring up the topic more with your parents, in a fluid way where you can speak more about your goals and reason to want to study abroad in the first place. Letting them know that you won’t be gone for months because there are programs that can be as short as even 2 weeks! It’s possible.
Cultural impediments – Hija/o no entiendo porque te quieres y tan lejos de nosotros…no estas feliz?
We’ve already covered some of the questions you might get if you mention that you would like to study abroad with your family earlier, however you may still be thinking “my family just doesn’t get it.” As Latino students, we have a bit of work to do in this area.
Cultural impediments go hand in hand with lack of awareness in a way because here, we are discussing the fact that if most of us are first-generation students, meaning that we don’t have abuelos and abuelas that have been in the States for a couple of generations, and possibly that our parents didn’t attend college, they weren’t exposed to the idea of study abroad. There’s an obvious disconnect we have to bridge.
I remember a friend of mine that was planning on going abroad had told me that she started to feel guilty because it almost felt selfish that she was leaving. She said that she had gotten some negative feedback from some of her aunts for putting her mom through so much stress because she was leaving to study in a foreign (and far) country.
In a similar case, a friend of hers had told me that he started to get commentary from his parents telling him that they didn’t think it was fair for him to leave the country that his parents migrated to in search of better opportunities. Briefly speaking, the guy’s parents didn’t understand why he was leaving America – the land of opportunity – for another country when he could complete his great education in the States. Both of them ended going abroad, but it wasn’t so easy, to begin with.
It’s cases like these that I’m referring to when I mean cultural impediments, where your parent’s or extended family might not completely understand the concept and the benefits of studying abroad, and they take it as something that is not, perhaps selfish. Having the information, possible connections at school to communicate to you and possibly your parents about their questions is a necessity and a possibility to help you overcome this.
Finances! – Hija/o eso esta muy caro!! Pon los pies en la tierra!
This one is going to be a little bit longer, but it is an important topic to cover. Believe it or not, there are many scholarships available for students wanting to go abroad.
One of the most popular scholarships out there is the Gilman Scholarship, which is a $5,000 scholarship that is awarded to over 2,800 students per school year. It aims to help low-income students fund their education abroad, and if your goal is to study a “Critical Need” language including but not limited to Arabic, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, you become eligible to receive an extra $3,000 on top of the $5,000 award. To learn more about the Gilman Scholarship click here.
Also, depending on the program you want to partake in, the program may offer certain scholarships only available to people accepted into the program such as Semester at Sea, which is an amazing program that has this grant available to those accepted into their program. They are offering awards ranging from $250-$10,000!
In addition to running your own research, talk with your study abroad advisor, as they also have invaluable resources and knowledge on scholarships and grants available as well as deadlines. Talking with your financial aid advisor at your home institution should also go without saying, as they can help you to plan out financially your program in conjunction with any federal aid and grants you may be receiving already.
I probably annoyed the crap out of my financial aid advisor from the many times I went to see him, but he helped me to see how my financial aid package would transfer onto the program costs, which then left me to see how much money I still needed to cover and make calculations on how much airfare and living expenses were going to be (this depends again on your program).
After knowing this incredibly helpful information, I asked both him and the study abroad director at my school for some scholarships that were available. They helped a ton, sending me links and emails about different scholarships both from their outer resources as well as from within the school. Since my program was a school-sponsored program, all of my financial aid was going to transfer with ease, and there were also grants funded by private donors to the school specifically directed towards students who were going abroad through my program.
So yes, it is an investment to go abroad but at the same time, if you search and ask, you will get the help you need to cover the majority, and maybe even all of it. It’s an opportunity that will help you gain perspective, more confidence, and resources that go beyond what you can learn at your home campus. It’s really worth every penny.
How to connect it to your future career – Y eso en que te va servir para tu carrera??
The experiences you’ll gain through a study abroad will not only set you apart from those who don’t have that experience, but it will give you that cultural awareness, increased real-world experience, intercultural skills, and will definitely improve your overall communication skills and boost your confidence – which are all favorable qualities you’ll be able to add to your resume after your study abroad experience.
The Gilman Scholarship created back in 2000 was created for the sole purpose to make education abroad financially feasible to American students by giving out 2,800 awards of $5,000 to qualified students every year. You can be awarded $8,000 if you go abroad to learn a “Critical Need” language.” Their goal? To encourage students to learn these languages (scroll down if you clicked on the link) which are considered to be a necessity according to the national security and diplomacy.
In addition, the U.S government is cheering on its Americans to go abroad, as this creates more relationships with foreign countries, and upon returning, students give back to our society by having a cultural understanding and a real-world, global experience.
The U.S government is creating initiatives to encourage global education for American students. NAFSA, The Association of International Educators, has shared this initiative that launched in 2019 called the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act. This act states the following (taken from their site):
“The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act would create a modest program of challenge grants to incentivize colleges and universities to make study abroad an integral part of higher education in order to advance three national goals:
- One million U.S. college students will study abroad annually for credit
- Study abroad participants will more closely represent the demographics of the undergraduate population in terms of gender, ethnicity, students with disabilities, income level, and field of study
- A significantly greater proportion of study abroad will occur in nontraditional destinations outside Western Europe
- Higher education institutions will make study abroad a critical component of a quality higher education
Higher education institutions could apply for federal grants, individually or in consortium, to help them institute programs that would move the country toward achievement of these objectives. ”
With colleges across the U.S. and the government creating more push towards study abroad accessibility for all, the possibility and accessibility to information will hopefully increase to better support students, especially Latino students to study abroad more.
Concluding thoughts on some of the reasons why Latino students don’t study abroad as much
I understand that there are in the end a lot of things to consider: money, family, your academic plan when it comes to taking that leap of faith and going abroad.
However, if you’ve read this far, you’ll see that there are resources and people out there to help you overcome these challenges. I hope this post doesn’t come off like I’m blaming our parents for not allowing more of us Latinos to go abroad. These were just some cases that my friends and I went through when we were preparing to go study abroad.
Studying abroad will do so much for you if you give yourself the opportunity. Both personally and professionally. Personally, it gave me the permission to be audacious with my goals and dreams because I loved the way it felt to live abroad for the duration of my program. It gave me the validation I have always wanted but felt like I couldn’t admit to myself, which was my dream to live abroad and work for myself doing what I love.
In the end, I hope you can see that really you are the one who has the power to enlighten yourself and your family and that knowing the facts and correct information will help you reach an understanding with your family who is just trying to look out for you in the end.
Let me know in the comments below if you can relate to any of these challenges, or if you think I missed one. I’d love to hear from you!!
Here I leave some resources that I briefly mentioned in the post:
Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship-About the Program: http://www.iie.org/en/Programs/Gilman-Scholarship-Program/About-the-Program
Center For Study Abroad-Paris, Sobornne (University): http://www.centerforstudyabroad.com/university-paris-sorbonne/
Semester at Sea-Need Based Grants: http://www.semesteratsea.org/scholarships/need-based-grants/
To many more travel moments and opportunities like this ✨