The Traveling Trickle Down Effect

My first flight ever was to Barcelona, Spain for a study abroad program. It was one of the most emotional trips of my life. I’ve never been uncomfortable doing new things, but living in a new country was a big deal. This discomfort produced a great amount of growth in just a few months, but I would imagine if I had someone mentoring me, I would have made overall better choices in my journey abroad. Looking back, I can’t think of one person that I looked up to that lived a life of travel, so I embarked on this trip with eyes wide open.

Upon returning to the States, I enrolled in graduate school and studied abroad again. After graduation, I landed a full-time job that left me unfulfilled. It wasn’t until a coworker mentioned  I talked about traveling all the time. S/he said I should consider teaching others what I had learned how they could study abroad, too. Light bulb moment!

Be the person you needed when you were younger. –Ayesha Siddiqi

In 2015, I launched Yes! Study Abroad, an organization that encourages underrepresented minority students in the US to study abroad and equips them with the tools they need to live life with purpose, become global citizens, and pursue their passions. The content on my site is what I needed when I was an undergraduate student trying to figure out what was next for me. At that time, I had no one to trickle down their traveling knowledge to me, so I felt charged to fill that gap.

Yes, Study Abroad
Image: R. Hameth Photography

This leads me to believe that avid travelers of color have a responsibility to support our younger generation as they approach the real world through travel. We all have experienced noticeable growth through our international mobility and those benefits hold true for those that come after us, both personally and professionally.

A study done by IES Abroad, the study abroad provider I used to journey to Spain, found that 97% of prior students surveyed students said studying abroad served as a catalyst for maturity, 96% experienced increased self-confidence, and 75% acquired skills that influenced their career path. [1] Additionally, 64% of employers say that international experience is important for recruiting. [2] The tragedy in these numbers is that only 5% of students who study abroad are African-American. [3]

Image: Ruth Kinloch

So why aren’t more people who look like us taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad? Perhaps because the concept of global travel is  unfamiliar to the Black American community. To this day, I am the only person in my immediate family with a passport and I can easily count how many extended family members have been abroad. However, almost all of these people  I speak to about studying abroad say they regret missing out on that opportunity in college. While there is a desire to travel, the experienced travelers have to trickle down their knowledge (and finances) to enable more black and brown people to step outside of their comfort zone and embark on an experience that can literally change their lives.

The true impact of African Americans studying abroad will come from mentorships. Student can freely ask questions, solicit your advice and get your unwavering encouragement to do great things and go on awesome adventures. My challenge to all black and brown travelers is to make themselves available to students and seek mentorship opportunities with younger family members, students at your alma mater, or wherever the opportunity may present itself. This is how we can create a generation of global citizens.

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