By Brittany Collins
When most students go to college they focus on their studies, make good grades, do internships and join clubs and organizations. Then they may hear about an opportunity. Sometimes those opportunities are not in America.
Florida A&M University (FAMU) students have traveled to several countries to expand their knowledge. They have gone for research and internships, and taken courses in other countries. Studying abroad is something Karen Mitchell, FAMU’s education abroad coordinator, encourages students at HBCUs to do.
“It makes you more marketable for a future job, grad school and law school….It enhances your critical thinking and makes you more of a global citizen,” said Mitchell.
Christopher Daniels, who works with the Center for Global Security and International Affair program at FAMU, adds that the study abroad program also prepares students for careers in the federal government in the intelligence community.
“What we want to do is make sure we have access to those jobs,” said Daniels. “The reasons why our students study abroad is to experience cultural emersion.”
Daniels ensures that the students understand other cultures by actually traveling there. Some of the countries they have traveled to include Brazil, China, South Africa and Costa Rica. He says opportunities like these help our students stand out from students at other universities.
“When you apply for a job, I’m going to look at your resume,” said Daniels. “Employees always go for students who have studied abroad and know a different language. This program gives FAMU students an edge in the employment market.”
Preparing to study abroad takes lots of planning, but it can happen if a student puts his or her mind to it. Many FAMU students can agree to that. Just take a look at the stories of two students who made the choice.
Jonathan Moses: A 2015 summer graduate of SBI with a concentration in marketing from Miami Gardens, Fla.
When Jonathan Moses interned for the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., he met a former intern. The intern told Moses that he visited over 15 countries in one semester by studying abroad with “Semester at Sea.”
Immediately, Moses changed his mindset on what it meant to expand his horizons.
“For me, somebody that has never studied abroad before and didn’t even have a passport at the time, that was just unheard of for me…I immediately asked him for more information about it,” said Moses.
Moses knew that money would be an issue, so he had to form a strategy to make his dream a reality.
Within months of raising $24,000 and getting his passport, he was ready to board and live a full semester cruising the oceans and experiencing the cultures of Europe, North Africa the Caribbean, and South America.
“It’s a full four-month experience…and in those four months, I live with my professors and I live with my peers,” said Moses.
While Moses and his peers took classes on the ship, they also disembarked to visit the countries along their route. They visited England, Ireland, Russia, Poland, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Barbados, Brazil, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
“Semester at Sea gives you just enough of the places you’ll visit,” said Moses. “For the most part we had about 3 to 4 days in some locations. But Brazil for example, we had about 10 days. It was great to have a wide range of experiences.”
Moses said his most memorable experience was going to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
“It was important for me because I was able to use my voice to speak on the behalf of my peers at the University and the Black community,” said Moses.
Moses conversed with delegates from all over the world about many civil rights cases that impacted the African American community such as the Michael Brown case.
From visiting concentration camps in Poland to dancing in Brazil to riding camels in the desert in Morocco, Moses expressed how every day was different and unique. He enjoyed his experience, and wishes more African Americans had the chance to take advantage of traveling to another country.
“International education is going to be a growing component for education in general. I think it’s important that students take the opportunity to transition into another culture,” said Moses.
Sometimes students look for studying abroad opportunities and sometimes the opportunity finds the student.
In 2013, Mariah Henry met her opportunity at the right time. She knew she always wanted to study abroad, but without the money to afford international travel, she had to wait for her chance.
“They were looking for students to go on this South African trip,” said Henry. This girl was, ‘like it’s free. They need people to go. They were having a hard time’… I was like, ‘I don’t believe it.’”
At first she was skeptical. But after the interview and application process the moment she’d been waiting for kicked in.
She spent two and a half weeks in South Africa going over post-apartheid land reform with business officials. She also worked with students in a primary school and showed them how to market their vegetable garden.
“That just opened my eyes completely and I never wanted to come back home,” said Henry.
That one opportunity in South Africa, led her to another study abroad opportunity in Europe. Henry received a call about a grant to study abroad in Austria and France for a semester from Harriett Paul, who is the director and advisor for CAFS.
In Vienna, Austria Henry took master-level classes at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU).
Aside from learning about the soil and organic foods, she experienced a different lifestyle. She said the school in Austria was the complete opposite of the schools in America.
“Schooling is very independent and self structured. Here we have attendance, but there you don’t have to go to class if you don’t want to. We may have a class that meets four times,” said Henry.
She also had the chance to travel to Italy and Paris during Easter break.
Henry was invited to travel to South Africa again, but this time it was for an internship. She partnered with other students and worked with Vivian Kleynhans who owns “Seven Sisters Wine.”
“Our job was to take her company and business and make it into tourism, a must see of South Africa,” said Henry.
This allowed Henry to learn about wine and more about apartheid in South Africa.
Now that she has seen parts of the world, her mindset for her career has changed. She’s even deciding to take marketing classes to learn about working a business, so she can further assist Vivian Kleynhans.
“Now if I want to do a grad program, I can do it abroad. Studying abroad is not for everybody. You have to have the attitude to learn a new experience,” said Henry.
Many FAMU students are taking advantage of traveling to other countries for personal growth, job opportunities and just to experience something different. However, the first step that a student takes regarding studying abroad can change their life in a whole new way, bigger than they might imagine.