Repost from the Daily Texan: https://thedailytexan.com/2022/10/19/students-should-diversify-their-study-abroad-options/
October 19, 2022
Last summer, I spent a month on a Maymester in Cape Town, South Africa. The city played a major role in my cultural experience. Learning how to navigate a completely unfamiliar space made my time in the community a learning experience that was equally impactful as my time in any classroom.
However, many students tend to travel to the same five countries when studying abroad. Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France and Ireland receive 44% of study abroad students each year.
“At UT, we consistently see a high participation rate in countries like Spain, and England, Scotland — and to some extent — Australia,” said Thomas Ward, director of education abroad for Texas Global.
Students should consider study abroad opportunities outside of Europe because, in some ways, their experiences might be more fulfilling than going to more common destinations.
“We are a Western country dominated by European and white knowledge systems,” said Devin Walker, director of Global Leadership and Social Impact. “I think these trips provide our students with a great opportunity to learn about the world from a perspective that hasn’t always been the most privileged one.”
Walker and Leonard Moore, the leaders of my Cape Town trip, were intentional about incorporating these local perspectives into our education by dedicating a majority of classroom time to speakers who were leaders from the surrounding community.
This made me feel like I was not simply “studying” “abroad” as two separate functions, but was actually learning from experts with a local perspective.
Studying abroad can help you confront potential misconceptions about new places and cultures that are less similar to our own in the U.S.
Before the Cape Town trip, my class was assigned to explore our biases and assumptions about Cape Town and Africa.
“Only then can we start to unlearn some of those things and create space to learn,” Walker said. “Because if we are not aware of the way we’ve been conditioned to think about these specific places and people, then we’ll carry those frameworks with us abroad, and won’t have as authentic of an experience.”
Mikayla Adeeko, psychology senior and a fellow student on the Cape Town trip, experienced negative biases before leaving for Cape Town. They had expected their experience to be different, given that the majority of their family is from Nigeria.
“If anything, (my family) only added to the fear because, as I was told, ‘We left for a reason,’” Adeeko said.
Adeeko found the most challenging part of their experience was the part that encouraged the most growth. Learning to immerse ourselves in the culture of a completely new environment where almost nothing is familiar is certainly a wake-up call.
However, by the end of the trip, Adeeko felt a sense of a shared humanity.
“I found so much in common with these people that I didn’t expect to, and it really speaks to how certain aspects of our humanity are so universal,” Adeeko said. “In the stories I encountered in Cape Town, whether they had a lot of beauty, or a lot of pain, or a lot of dirt, there were always the through lines of hope, resilience and love.”
Choosing a less common option abroad can challenge students, but those trips often become some of the most fulfilling college experiences. Students should explore countries outside of Europe when looking to study abroad during their time at UT.
Garderet is a Plan II and urban studies sophomore from Dallas, Texas.