African-Americans have been traveling abroad to expand their horizons for decades. During the 1940s, many prominent African-Americans traveled to Europe. The legendary writers James Baldwin (Go Tell It On The Mountain, 1953) and Richard Wright (Native Son, 1941) are two examples of African-Americans who flourished in Paris after World War II.

Fighting a war against discrimination overseas presented some irony to African-Americans living in an unjust and segregated America. Traveling abroad gave these writers a fresh perspective on their own society and of their potential as individuals across the globe.

With the globalization of our world, the number of African-American students studying abroad is on the rise. Whether you decide on Paris or Pretoria, Beijing or Berlin, Guatemala or Ghana, there are countless reasons why you should participate in a study abroad program. Here are the top ten…

1. See the world and broaden your experience

There are so many amazing things to experience around the world. You can see different natural landscapes and climates that do not exist in America. There are historical landmarks in every country that helped shape the history of the globe. You can expand your knowledge of the world by actually being there, seeing it, touching it, and experiencing it. Pictures in text books simply do not do justice to standing under the Eiffel Tower or on the Great Wall of China. Is there a place or landmark you have always wanted to see? This is how you can understand the world in a direct, all-encompassing way.

2. Gain a new perspective on your own country

In 1949, James Baldwin wrote in Notes of a Native Son, “From the vantage point of Europe [the American student] discovers his own country.” Learning about your own country by living abroad remains extremely relevant today as we continue to further our understanding of other cultures. Of course, studying abroad isn’t limited to Europe - you have the opportunity to study in just about every corner of the globe. In Botswana or Tanzania, Italy or Thailand, you will learn about the U.S. from a new and different perspective. As a college student, there is no better time to see the world and be exposed to new things. These experiences will shape the rest of your life.

3. Explore your heritage

Getting in touch with your family’s heritage can be another strong motivation to study abroad. Many minority students, particularly African-Americans, report tremendous educational and personal benefits from exploring countries where their families have roots. Studying abroad can provide you with an opportunity to learn about your own ethnicity and to explore your own identity. Many well-known African-Americans have traveled to Africa extensively to get in touch with their heritage. Author and activist Alice Walker (The Color Purple, 1982) spent time in Uganda as a foreign exchange student during her college career. The renowned poet and author Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970), as well as influential celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, have also spent significant time in Africa exploring their heritage and teaching others about the importance of spending time in Africa.

4. Improve your professional and financial potential

International experience is a critical and impressive part of any resume. In addition to the personal growth you’ll undergo while overseas, the international and cross-cultural skills you’ll develop will certainly expand your employment opportunities and, consequently, your income potential. Globally-minded employees are in high demand. Many companies seek out individuals with multi-lingual and multi-cultural experience and skills. Additionally, students can also take advantage of internships while they study abroad for an international work experience that is valued among U.S. employers. Your newly acquired skills will strengthen your resume in America’s increasingly ethnically and culturally diverse workforce.

5. Become a full-time learner

While studying abroad you will have the opportunity to truly become a full-time student. Traveling outside the United States will be an education in itself. Many students who go abroad report that in addition to enjoying and learning in their classes during the week, they learn some of the most valuable lessons outside of the classroom. Weekend excursions to museums and cultural sites also add to your academic and personal growth. You learn to interact with people who may not necessarily think or communicate like you. While in a foreign country, even mundane activities – like shopping for groceries –become educational experiences.

6. Gain new insights and outlooks through new relationships

The relationships formed while studying abroad might become some of the deepest friendships you will ever develop. You will have the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures, and some of these people may even become life-long friends. Study abroad returnees often report meeting others with whom they expected to have no common ground, and then discovering that, despite being from different parts of the globe, they have much in common and much to learn from one another. These relationships, insights, and outlooks are a critical part of the study abroad experience.

7. Fight stereotypes by educating others

There is a distinct challenge African-Americans face abroad. Many other cultures only have experience with African-Americans through the American media (i.e. news, sports, music, and movies). African-American students may become frustrated when the same stereotypes from home follow them overseas. However, this is also a unique opportunity to educate others about who you are as an individual and as a group. You can illustrate your own experiences in the United States in comparison to what others see and hear. This is your chance to be an individual, as well as a representative of your culture, and to encourage positive understanding of global diversity.

8. Dispel your own stereotypes

Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist of the 19th century, once said “Men who travel should leave their prejudices at home.” In addition to serving as a cultural ambassador to dispel other’s misconceptions, studying abroad gives you a chance to break down some of your own stereotypes about other countries and peoples. Not only will you have the chance to immerse yourself in another culture, you will also meet people from different backgrounds and make personal connections with people whom you may have never expected.

9. Take control of your future

During your time abroad, you will be exposed to countless different experiences that may influence the rest of your life. Some students even end up changing their major or career path as a result of the new things they learn from being abroad. Others discover a newfound passion for travel, decide they want to work abroad, or desire to learn a new language The vast majority of study abroad students report feeling more independent, self-confident, and knowledgeable of the world around them. After studying abroad, you may find your travels have had a profound influence on your career or personal goals. If you wish to continue with your higher education into either a masters or a doctorate, study abroad experience will give an edge on the competition. Graduate programs, law schools, and med schools all look favorably on such global experience. You never know who may be impressed by your travels.

10. See what influenced these great African-Americans

A number of African-Americans were strongly shaped by their international experiences, including:

  • Ernest Coleman, physicist and recipient of the Distinguished Service Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers, spent a year in Hamburg, Germany.
  • W.E.B. DuBois, writer and civil rights spokesman of the 19th century, spent two years studying at the University of Berlin in Germany.
  • Ernest Everett Just, Zoologist, Biologist and Physiologist, known for his work with cell development and physiology, studied in Berlin, Germany.
  • James Lesure, star of television's Las Vegas on NBC, studied abroad for one year at the University of Kent in England.
  • Norbert Rillieux, Chemist and inventor of a device that revolutionized the sugar industry, received education in Paris, France.
  • Paul Robeson, lawyer, actor, singer, activist. He traveled extensively around the world to perform and promote cultural understanding.
  • Sista Soulja, activist, novelist, actress, and hip-hop artist, studied abroad as an undergraduate at the University of Salamanca in Spain. While in college, she traveled extensively to England, Finland, France, Portugal, Russia, and Spain.
  • Alice Walker, activist and author of The Color Purple, spent time in Uganda.



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