Padnos International Center event to highlight study-abroad diversity

By Tylee Bush | 1/8/18 1:13am

GVL / Courtesy - Dashaun Ragland Dashaun Ragland studying abroad in Chile during the summer of 2017

Traveling abroad as a student can be an exciting and life-changing experience, but it is not free of challenges. At the "Being Black and Brown Abroad" event, Grand Valley State University students of color will be sharing their unique experiences in diverse locations around the globe. 

The event will take place Friday, Jan. 12, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Mary Idema Pew Library Multipurpose Room. It is LIB 100- and 201-approved, and there will be free food following the program.

A panel of students and alumni will share their experiences on the challenges of studying abroad as people of color, how they started the conversation with their parents about going abroad, how they handled culture shock and adjusting to a foreign place, where they found the funding for their trip and more. 

One of the students who will be on the panel is Vanesha Blackburn, a GVSU graduate student in the College Student Affairs Leadership program. Born and raised in Chicago, Blackburn came to GVSU for her undergraduate studies and knew she didn’t want to graduate without having the opportunity to study abroad.

After some guidance from the Padnos International Center (PIC), she selected Ghana as her study-abroad destination. She spent the summer of 2016 in Cape Coast, and the experience was better than she could have imagined. 

“My experience abroad was amazing," Blackburn said. “I was able to make new friends, self-reflect, volunteer at an orphanage and visit historical slave castles. Being black abroad allowed me to build relationships easier and appreciate the important history of the transatlantic slave trade. It allowed me to stay humble and remain true to my roots. I realized that privilege is not a universal trait.”

DaShaun Ragland, a GVSU student studying biomedical sciences and Spanish, is another peer who will be speaking as part of the panel for the event. He, too, had a unique experience being black abroad. 

Reflecting on his summer abroad in Chile in 2017, Ragland said "being thrown into the vibrant culture was very exciting. … The experience was incredible."

Ragland mistakenly stumbled across the study-abroad fair on campus during the fall of his freshman year. This sparked his curiosity, and after speaking with a PIC adviser, he felt deeply motivated to study abroad. 

“To my fellow people of color, the only advice I have for you is to leave the norms you have learned on the airplane,” Ragland said. “You are going to be with an entirely new group of people with new ideas. Go experience and try new things.”

Blackburn and Ragland both battled financial strains in order to go on their trips.

“Yes, it was difficult to fund my trip,” Blackburn said. “I had to find several avenues to generate the amount of money I needed to make my trip possible.” 

Blackburn suggests that students start their research early, receive guidance from PIC study-abroad advisers, talk with local organizations they are connected with and simply ask for support.

For Ragland, it was the Murray Scholarship that made his trip possible.

“I would recommend applying to GVSU scholarships first, then reaching out to local organizations and Facebook for donations,” Ragland said. “Don’t be afraid to take out a loan. It will be worth it in the end.”

Despite the obstacles they faced, both students reiterated how incredible their experiences abroad were. 

In addition to the student panel, there will be PIC staff members who will talk about scholarships, funding and how students can start their journey abroad. There will be a Q&A with the panel students and PIC staff, and students are encouraged to stay for food and conversation after the program concludes.

Care Allen, a full-time staff member for TRiO Student Support Services, has been helping to plan and organize the Being Black and Brown Abroad event.

“Attendees can expect to gain insight on the personal experiences of the panel students, as well as information on particular programs,” Allen said. “Attendees will also be able to interact and network with PIC faculty and staff.”

Allen said that even though this program is geared toward students of color, any student looking to study abroad, or who has studied abroad before, is welcome to attend. 

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