By Indigo Goodson, Education Coordinator at HI New York City hostel
As the Education Coordinator at HI New York City hostel, I facilitate a program called Study Abroad 101 and spend a lot of time preparing young people for their first international travel opportunity. A core component of our Study Abroad 101 program is discussing how one’s study abroad experience varies depending on different aspects of their identity. Race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic class are all aspects of a person’s positionality.
What you appear to “be” can be interpreted very differently depending on what city, state, or country you are visiting. Sometimes a student’s identity is going to impact them in ways they may not realize when they travel abroad. With our Study Abroad 101 program, we strive to prepare them beyond the basics and impart to them the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate these experiences.
Having studied abroad at the University of Ghana as part of California State University’s study abroad program, I know how transformative this time spent overseas can be. I also know, being a Black American woman amongst a diverse cohort of students, how unique each study abroad experience is. Your experience will vary based not only on where you choose to study, but on your own unique blend of identities and how they are perceived in your new environment.
Therefore, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend the 2018 Diversity Abroad Conference (DAC) in Miami, Florida. Diversity Abroad describes their conference, including the Minority Serving Institution Summit, as “the most comprehensive national forum on issues of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion in global education.”
As an organization that strives to make travel more inclusive, it was imperative that HI USA was in attendance. An unforeseen benefit was how much I got out of the conference as an individual and a professional.
Here are my key takeaways from this year’s conference:
1. Diversity as a term means little without context
Diversity is a term that is common place in many institutions’ and organizations’ marketing and mission statements, but what does that mean? During the DAC there were workshops that discussed the diversity of sexual orientation, socio-economic class, gender, religious identity, nationality, physical and mental abilities, race, ethnicities, and ideologies.
What diversity means for an institution or organization can shift based on the demographics of its location, which communities are underrepresented, and which communities have been historically oppressed. It is important to remain aware of what diversity means in different communities, and to be specific when using the term.
2. There is a difference between a minority enrolling institution and a minority serving institution
It is not enough to celebrate the relatively high percentage of diverse students and community members that are enrolled in an institution or organization. Institutions must also ensure that they are being “served.” This means asking: How have our policies and programs changed to become more inclusive and relevant to these students and community members? How have we adapted to better serve this demographic of students and community members?
3. Nothing sends a stronger message than showing up
This one is simple. Actually being present at a conference designed for students and professionals interested in global education speaks volumes. There is immense value in connecting with like-minded professionals and mission-aligned organizations in person, and it is important to continue to seek and build these partnerships. Supporting and attending the conference shows the network of Diversity Abroad members and partners, as well as our hostel guests, that HI USA is invested in our mission to make travel accessible to all.
4. New research is emerging that will help HI USA better serve young travelers
There is an opportunity for HI USA to be responsive to new research on how travel is being experienced by different members of the community. While there are studies that demonstrate how identity and positionality impact one’s study abroad experience, they are not as robust and inclusive as they should be.
For example, data exist on the gender of students studying abroad, but mainly within a binary framework. Recently, there has been a move to collect data on all gender identities and gender nonconforming students. Using developing research like this will help HI USA continue to evolve in our efforts to make travel more inclusive.
5. Institutions and organizations investing in global education should remember to include students in these conversations
Not only did the DAC feature all-student panel discussions, but students were presenters during many workshops every day. Student voices were an essential part of the conference, and the Global Student Leadership Summit was a student focused component of the conference. When we as educators, administrators, and facilitators are discussing how we best prepare students for studying abroad, we should remember that students’ voices are of the highest value.
6. We are doing a lot of things right, and we can do more!
As an organization, our mission is not just aligned with Diversity Abroad, but with many institutions and organizations invested in global education and increasing access to travel for all. HI USA’s Explore the World travel scholarships, Study Abroad 101, and a slew of our other education programs are directly contributing to these goals. We also need to continue to adopt best practices, adjust when we recognize gaps, and strive to remain a leader amongst education non-profit organizations.
The Diversity Abroad Annual Conference felt like the community I had been waiting to connect with. It offered an opportunity to exchange stories and ideas, from studying abroad as a Black woman with natural hair, to how to best prepare students from diverse backgrounds for their study abroad experiences. I noticed my peers and I had very different experiences abroad and that mine differed from the dominant narrative. This is why we are striving to have a more inclusive, comprehensive narrative and bring a diversity of voices to the forefront at HI USA.
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