Tag Archives: study abroad

Wheels up, AGAIN

31 Mar


As I am doing all of my last minute stuff to prepare for my student trip later this evening, my mind is going in a thousand directions.  First thought, this is my fourth trip taking a group of college students overseas.  I am taking a moment to sit with this.  My commitment to international education and intercultural communication as made it possible to expose groups of students to various parts of the world.  For the most part, these are students who would not exactly jump at the chance to study abroad.  That feat makes me proud.  

Second, this is my fourth trip taking a group of students who don’t look like me overseas.  I have a bit of angst with this thought as I am clear the limited number of opportunities afforded those that look like me and how many times, study abroad, international education and cultural exposure are seen as luxuries unattainable with many ridiculously genius students in my community.  This feeling is more of a motivator than anything else.  Trust me.  I’ll speak more on that on this trip.


Which leads to my third thought, I am visiting a city I have been to with students before…LONDON…so, I kind of already know what to expect.  I need to focus on what I will do as a scholar/researcher while I am there.  For the first time, I’m not really sure.  Sure folks can rattle off ideas surrounding Brexit and diversity and the like, but, to be honest, I’m not really interested. I guess I have a 9-hour flight to figure it out, unless any of you have some ideas….

Until I touch down, toodles!

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Getting to Guatemala Day 1: Service Trips and authentic “tears”

1 Apr

Today was our travel day to Guatemala.  Nothing out of the ordinary in regards to my students.  They showed up on time, they were ready, excited and anything else to be expected.  With no worries there, I decide to do my typical observation of the various contexts around me as we travel.  The United States education system has hit a boom with the “service-learning” and alternative spring break model for developing classrooms without walls.

I am all for exploration of new cultures, all for doing good to leave the world better and fully support young people with passport stamps with meaningful stories behind them.  But you know me, this is Black Away from Home, you know what I was checking for.  Much like with my Spain trip last year, the international terminal was a flurry with giddy students in matching shirts with frantic adult chaperones trying to keep them all together.

You know what was missing:

Once again, very few brown faces.  But this time, I decided to engage one of the adult chaperones sitting next to me on the plane.  I need to go deeper with this observation now. Ask some questions that may help me get to the dirty of why so few of our babies are here.  You know airplane chit chat “Is this your first time to Guatemala?” Do you speak Spanish?” Then comes my question to her: “What exactly will you be doing down here/”. Her response gifted me one of the most profound revelations  about this whole study away, engaged global learning fit I have been having.  As simple as it was, I realized from her response, another underlying reason for en masse service exodus among classes and students who don’t look like the beautiful babies above: “We’re on a mission trip to teach agrarian techniques outside of Antigua.”

Okay. WAIT. PAUSE. In my head I’m thinking: You’re taking children to an agrarian country to teach the people there how to be farmers?  

  HUH?! Where they do that at? (Above photo courtesy of a phenomenal “brother-in-love”)

This where “authentic tears” come in.  See, it was her response that helped me to see that one of the unspoken reasons for the types of trips is to satiate a desire to help those in need with a population that feels most safe.  It is another example of those tears the color of snow that feign compassion from a distance and empathy with condition. What’s the saying: you don’t bring sand to the beach?

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support alternative spring breaks that extend beyond the walls of the classroom in to the backyards, those communities under their noses.   But I have to admit, I do give a hard side eye, to programs that traipse PW students (if you need help with that abbreviation, you haven’t been on this site too often) to the ends of the world to implement temporary, non-sustainable projects when they could have easily done more good at home. And even harder side eye when on surface it looks like there may be practices to purposefully omit a population that will remind you too much of what you are ignoring at home.

I know, this seems strange, Black Away from Home NOT supporting travel abroad? That’s not what I’m saying.  I still support study abroad, but for the enrichment of engaging with other cultures to be able to learn from them and establish meaningful connections and experiences that will shape identity construction and career trajectories.  Not travel for the sake of superficially addressing sentiments of guilt, also the color of snow.

Superficial service projects actually do more harm than good.  Check out this TEDTalk if you don’t believe me: Nonprofits are dead wrong.

Let us not sacrifice intercultural pedadgogy for guilty tears.  If you want to wash away those, I know some water in Flint that could help you with that.

I’m looking at motive here.  But I’ll be fair, I mean, I AM in Guatemala with students too.  Why did we come?  Well, my students are using their majors as lens to critically compare, contrast and analyze Guatemala City and Antigua to what they are learning in Architecture, Civil Engineering, New Media Art/Design and Electrical Enigneering.  Their research here will inform an extended global perspective for the senior projects. No reinventing the wheel with projects that might not last beyond our week long visit.   I’m planting seeds too, but in these minds… I’ve ranted and rambled. My apologies. Jet lag will do that to you. But, I have purged so I can focus on other things tomorrow.

Madrid Day 1 – The absence of presence or “Really? Starting from the plane ride, huh?”

31 May

Call it divine coincidence, an instersection of fates, dumb luck or just plain misfortune (all in how you look at it, right?), but my flight to Madrid was shared with 90 (yes, 9-0) high school students and their Spanish teacher/chaperones on their way for a “Spain Immersion” (at least according to their t-shirts).

I love the idea of students going abroad, in fact, I encourage it with my own students and dream about it for my own children.  However, seeing as how this is “Black Away from Home,” this post is not entirely about the joy of seeing fresh faces about to embark on an overseas experience, but more about the absence of a particular type of face:  


Ninety students, eight teachers and 3 brown faces, none of which were adult chaperones. What is the gap between linking travel to experiential learning within our community?  Yes, we travel, there are several African American travel groups that have gained popularity in recent years.  Yes, we study diligently.  This graduation season has produced and will produce numerous (I dare say thousands) of brown faces donning honor chords or joined with some type of cum laude behind their names (“Thankya-lawdy” not included), yet very few of us can be found preparing for a summer study abroad experience..

Now, as a prodcut of one of the most prestigious HBCUs in the nation (big ups Spelman College),  

 I know that we do study abroad (did it myself in college some moons ago).  But with this “post-racial,” “can’t-we-all-just-get-along” mask to which we currently claim ownership, there is something to be said about the lack of diversity, the tiny number of students of color in this particular group–from Atlanta, where Black aristocracy claims to reign.  We are moving ourselves around the city and into specific neighborhoods so that we can put our children in the best schools, but we are not capitalizing on a critical aspect these schools have to offer, international education through study abroad.

The academician in me finds a particular response to this within international education literature and pedagogy…not a single brown-faced scholar stressing the benefit which thereby influences the brown-faced educator to inspire the the brown-faced students to “go and see the world.”  We seem to face-to-face with a concrete example of the educational disparities that continue to pervade our system.  This can be filled with simply sharing knowledge and information.  NBC said it best on Saturday mornings: “The more you know, the more you grow.”

Now if I am incorrect and there are noted scholars of color discussing the implications of international education for students of color, I stand corrected and humbly ask that you post their bibliographic information in the comments.  Until then, I’m getting my ‘bows ready to make room on this IE stage for me.

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