Are You International?

By James Michael Brodie

With the world becoming smaller, the number of pre-college students venturing to other countries as part of their education is on the rise. Be it Paris or Pretoria, Beijing or Berlin, Guatemala or Ghana, there are countless reasons for young people to travel abroad.

Gretchen Cook-Anderson, who traveled to Nagoya, Japan, when she was in college, says the experience helped her grow intellectually, learn new cultures, become self-reliant and sharpen her creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

“For African-American students, the key value is in gaining the same advantages that they so often don’t have when compared with students who have traditionally studied abroad,” says Cook-Anderson, an African American who is director of diversity recruiting and advising with IES Abroad.

Travel abroad is not new to African Americans. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who journeyed outside the U.S., once commented that, “Men who travel should leave their prejudices at home.”

“Travel enriches our lives,” says Jeff Sharpe, executive director and founder of Sustainable Summer, a not-for-profit organization that has programs in Ecuador to teach high school students about environmental sustainability. “The emotional benefit from experiences far exceeds material purchases, which provide only fleeting personal satisfaction.”

In the National Society of Black Engineers, parents such as Annie Carter, founder and advisor of the Lamar University NSBE Jr. Chapter, have found ways to enhance their children’s education by crossing national borders. Carter and her husband took their two sons on trips to Canada, Mexico and Ghana. One of the sons is a physician now. The other is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and a commander in Afghanistan. Both speak Spanish fluently.

“The purpose of a lot of programs is to give kids a chance to see that what happens in other parts of the world is not the same as what happens here,” says Ryan Sinclair, who leads pre-college excursions to South Africa in his job as program director with the Ivy Leader program at Dartmouth College.

“My strongest advice to our African-American parents of NSBE students is to please allow your children to grow and learn and spread their wings through study abroad,” Cook-Anderson says. “The world is increasingly interconnected, and study abroad is a steppingstone into a young person’s ability to compete and lead in the global economy.”

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