Hi there! I’m Zena Jeffers and I received the Gilman in 2016 while studying political science and international management at the illustrious NC A&T State University. My country of choice was a small island called Cyprus where I met with Fulbright scholars, the U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, and made an impact through volunteerism. In 2018, I studied in Germany where I gained more experience networking in diverse settings.
As a black first-generation college student, I had much anxiety around traveling abroad and felt the pressure to excel not only for myself, but for those who supported my efforts to travel abroad in the first place. There are so many stigmas within the black community surrounding study abroad for lower income people of color that are detrimental since they ultimately stop many from even considering this life changing opportunity. The Institute of International Education reported in 2021 that only 5.6 percent of students studying abroad are black. The primary reasons that black students refrain from going abroad:
- Fear of experiencing racism abroad
- Concerns over financing their studies
- Lack of support from their community
At the root of all of these feelings is fear. When we allow our feelings of fear to overpower our decisions we miss out on the opportunity to challenge ourselves, thus stunting our growth. My decision to go abroad taught me to have a level of confidence in myself and my ability to excel in any situation presented to me. Here are the primary reasons I believe every black student should consider studying abroad:
- Racism exists in every country and isn’t necessarily something you can run from.
- There are hundreds of programs like the Gilman that will fully fund your experiences.
- Stepping into the unknown creates new results that could propel you forward in life.
My journeys abroad shaped who I am today because I allowed myself that chance. I stopped making assumptions about how the world viewed me, and focused more on maintaining my own positive views of myself. By doing this, I was able to forge long-lasting relationships, impact an underserved community through volunteerism, and share my own culture with people around me.
Let’s be honest — your experiences won’t be the same as others and that’s okay
I often felt reminded that I was an outlier in most rooms, but I utilized those opportunities to share more about myself, thus allowing others to do the same. When reflecting on my experiences abroad, there were many times where I could have stayed to myself and allowed others the opportunity to maintain their biases about me. I had to pull confidence from within myself and remember that those supporting me back home were rooting for my success. As I reflect on my experiences I am reminded of the moments where I could sit and observe the community that I created after stepping off of a plane knowing absolutely no one and the overwhelming sense of pride that comes with such an accomplishment. It goes without saying that studying abroad will change your life, yet many underestimate the grave impact that it has until after the impact is made. It takes personal resilience and dedication to learning to truly make the most of your experiences and build everlasting relationships. I encourage any student of color who is undecided about studying abroad to take a chance on themselves fearlessly.