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Embracing Diversity in Study Abroad

By  May 5, 2011

Cross-cultural interactions could be so well-served by more diversification.

If you were asked to conjure up an image that represented "studying abroad," you might picture a young, white student cavorting with other young, white students in a European institution of higher learning, walking past ivy-covered stone buildings or chugging beers at the local pub.

And your picture would probably be representative of many study abroad experiences, considering its history in Canada and the United States. But, bit by bit, that image is changing.

Following the news from IES Abroad, a major study abroad provider in the U.S., that Washington-native Gretchen Cook-Anderson will be joining their team as the Director of Diversity, I got to thinking about how well Canada and the U.S. represent themselves through the students we send abroad. The way it stands today, does it truly reflect our amazing diversity of ethnicity, sexual orientations, gender, class structures and ages? Probably not. And it's a shame because the cross-cultural interactions we stand to gain through internationalized education could be so well-served by more diversification.

IES Abroad's diversity initiative, which Cook-Anderson will oversee, is working on encouraging more students from various backgrounds to take advantage of studying abroad with scholarships and think tanks, among other resources. Meanwhile, the Institute for International Education has focused some of their academic resources towards breaking barriers for students of colour and minorities, and other programmes are popping up elsewhere.

I also recently stumbled across this scholarship from DiversityAbroad.com (in partnership with the American Institute for Foreign Study). It offers American students who are economically disadvantaged, from a visible minority or who choose to study outside western Europe and Australia, a chance at a scholarship to study with a partner institution. You can check out some of the video essays students have posted for this scholarship on YouTube, starting with this one:

At the same time, the destinations being chosen by North American students are diversifying, as well, with countries like Peru, China and South Korea seeing huge gains in recent years. 

If you're interested in reading more about diversity and study abroad, check out this list of articles and resources. And please share your thoughts on the subject here!

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Zalina Alvi

Zalina grew up in Toronto and began her career in journalism at the York University campus newspaper. Before joining Verge in 2010, she worked for a documentary festival, a non-profit organization and various magazines and newspapers. Zalina has had some eclectic travel experiences, including reporting for a newspaper on the island of Molokai in Hawaii.

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