Diversity initiatives within the Office of International Programs

By: Essence Buckman, Senior Writer

When students attend college for the first time, one program they can consider is studying abroad. Some majors, such as language majors, are required to study abroad for at least one semester in countries and programs that relate to their field of learning. Other students have the option to study abroad anywhere they please, as long as it fits within their graduation pathway, such as fulfilling minimal hours and certain credit requirements.

For those considering going abroad, there are the options to go for a full semester, summer or January term (Interim). While many students find these routes accessible, there are also some roadblocks that can prevent students from traveling to a different country and commencing their studies abroad. Some issues include financial barriers or various fears, including the uncertainty of being a person of color or a student that identifies as LGBT in a different country and culture.

The Office of International Programs (OIP) is aware of these issues and has worked during the past few years to come up with different initiatives to help interested students on their pre-study abroad journey.

One such effort was spearheaded by former student Kayla Hill ‘17, who was a Global Ambassador her senior year. She studied in Alicante, Spain during the fall semester of her junior year at Wofford. Hill created a “Black and Abroad” panel, which had the purpose to help encourage and give advice to Black students aspiring to study abroad. The panel members included current and former Black students who gave testimonies of their experiences abroad in various places across the world.

The members included Hill, Ron Norman ’13, the former interim director of diversity and inclusion at Wofford, and Dr. Camille Bethea ‘91, current professor in the Spanish department and member of the Presidential Diversity committee on campus. Hill’s program has proven to be effective as it has been helpful to the Black students that attended:

“The experiences of Black students abroad are very different from White students’,” says Lacey Robinson ’18. “The other abroad orientation sessions did not touch on the black experience specifically. The panel made me think about possible problems that I could have while abroad that I had not thought of before…The tips that I got and experiences I heard were definitely useful to reflect upon during my time abroad.”

“Hearing about Ron Norman’s 2013 study abroad experience eased my thoughts and concerns about my first international trip,” says Tim Lindsey ’18. “It was helpful knowing that someone had the same concerns I had and knowing they were able to answer questions I had about South Africa.”

The OIP put on an event this past spring semester called “Out and About.” This event focused on LGBTQ concerns going abroad. Taking that further, intersectional issues were focused on, such as being a person of color as well as a part of the LGBTQ community. This initiative was brought about to be more attentive to the experience of non-White and non-heterosexual students, and the problems they could face during their time abroad and preparation for that experience.

One very helpful program is the CIEE Passport Caravan, which focuses on equity and access. An estimated 100 passports will be given out to qualified students at no cost. While this opportunity was promoted to all Wofford students, students that historically have been underrepresented in study abroad programs, such as student athletes, were encouraged to apply. This is a “good faith effort for students to get global citizenship through international education,” says J. Kyle Keith, Study Abroad Coordinator.

The application period for this program ended September 24th.

A new program to look forward to will be a Pre-departure orientation which will help with the facilitation of conversations through peer advising. It will occur on Nov. 14 and 15. This program’s purpose is to pair interested students with a mentor or peer who has been on the same program and/or studied abroad in the same city/country, and who can guide and advise the aspiring study abroad student on any information they may need.

“I think last year was a good initial momentum,” Keith states, “and I’m excited to see what’s to come.”

The study abroad deans and coordinators, along with their Global Ambassadors, are making intense efforts to encourage students to go abroad and prepare them for that experience to the best of their ability.

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