‘I can do anything’: Study Abroad works to include more students of color

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Out of the 4,421 students who studied abroad last year, almost half were white. 

Of the other students, 19 percent were Hispanic, 17 percent were Asian and 5 percent were African-American. For the past five years, these percentages have not fluctuated much. However, the UT International Office works to try and close the gap by addressing financial barriers and creating more inclusive environments.

“Ensuring students of color have the information and support they need to incorporate an international experience into their four-year degree is our goal,” said Heather Thompson, director of study abroad. “We work closely with units, such as the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and the Multicultural Engagement Center to increase awareness to diverse students.”

On Thursday, the division hosted a Diversity Abroad Showcase to raise awareness about its current programs.

“The history of international education was promoting Western superiority,” said Devin Walker, the division’s director of global engagement. “Study abroad was made for white students. Now we have more equity within higher education, and the world is becoming more globalized. International education will be more and more important.”

Sociology junior Keelan Wilson attended the division’s trip to Cape Town, South Africa, last year, which he said added to his love of traveling.

“When you go somewhere far from home with people who look like you, you’re automatically more comfortable,” Wilson said. “You’re in a foreign land. Someone who understands your culture, and is from where you are from, will provide some type of comfort.”

Study abroad, however, can provide more than travel opportunities. Christian Lucero graduated from UT this past April with a bachelor’s in music, and his study abroad experience in Beijing — also with DDCE — inspired the idea for Elotes Lucero LLC, his corn-in-a-cup business.

“Small shops in China are super specialized,” Lucero said. “The street vendors there also really specialize. That really inspired me to open my own specialized business. I see other people thriving in different cultures, so I tapped into my own background.”

Lucero could not have studied abroad without the International Office First Abroad Scholarship for first-generation college students. Marketing junior Lynette Adkins said while financial barriers often keep students of color from studying abroad, the cost should not intimidate them. Adkins took out a student loan to join the McCombs School of Business on a trip to Barcelona last summer.

“That was my first time ever leaving the country,” Adkins said. “It pushed me to be in an environment I wasn’t used to. It strengthened me as a person. Part of the experience was like, there’s this huge loan I’m paying at the end of the day. But, it was worth it.”

Students of color who studied abroad said they now encourage their friends to join them, which could contribute to the slowly increasing percentage of minorities.

“Study abroad was the best experience I’ve had in my life,” Lucero said. “We’re here in the U.S., and we don’t ever think of the other side of the world, but just going overseas made me feel like I can travel anywhere. I can do anything.”