by Elisabet Raquel @elisabet_raquel
Studying abroad as a low-income, non-white person with an immigrant family background can be a thrilling and worrisome experience at the same time – it can be life changing, believe me! My background may be a little more privileged than some others as I’m a Latina with light skin with more of a second-generation U.S. experience. Howeverso, as a first generation college student with a low-income background, I still grew up without much access to academic resources and opportunities. But, all that changed for me after I decided to apply for study abroad programs offered by my university. I’m just a low-income girl from a little east of East L.A. who grew up with an identity crisis and feelings of imposter syndrome – this is how I would have described myself a couple of years ago. I am someone who now knows exactly who I am, where I come from, and what I’m made of since studying abroad three times – two of those three times in my countries of origin (and you can read about that here). Prior to travel study I had only been to México once as a little girl and spoke mostly English and very poor quality Spanish. I am now nearly fluent in three languages and have received almost half of my undergraduate education in some of the most highly esteemed universities and academic programs in Latin America. Growing up, I never imagined higher education would have been an option for me, let alone such an esteemed international education! ¡Si se puede, todo se puede!
Fitting the Experience into your Busy Life
Fitting travel study into your academic experience is all about organizing your time, priorities, and resources. The sooner you start planning for your travel study, the better – but even if it’s later in your academic career, know that it is still possible! If you are an undergraduate student at a community college or university, your school may have a study abroad office where you can reach out for more information about the kinds of programs and opportunities offered. I studied abroad three times as an undergraduate under a five-year academic plan – all of which was covered by my financial aid and scholarships (though I did take out a small percentage of loans as a personal decision). This was possible because of the following: I came into university with a sophomore credit standing; I applied for study abroad my first year and went abroad my second year; I studied a major in the humanities with not many requisite courses; and I extended my enrollment at my university for a full fifth year (since my financial aid package covered a full fifth year). Now, this is my own personal experience and everyone’s situation is unique, but a general rule is that the earlier you start planning, the better! Once you travel study, you might realize that you would like to do it a couple of times (like I sure did). In the end, it is up to you to decide what you want out of your academic experience and prioritize from there on out. If you’re unable to fit a travel study experience into your undergraduate experience, know that there are other opportunities available, such as the Fulbright program where you can apply for grants to teach English abroad or conduct Master’s level or Doctoral research. You can even look into getting your TEFL certificate for Teaching English as a Foreign Language as there is a demand for English teachers all over the world. You can also consider Work Away or finding work that you can do remotely. There are many options out there for you to choose from!
If you are a low-income student, please know that there are funding opportunities for you out there! In some cases, the financial aid you receive for studying at your host institution may apply directly to your travel study costs. This is not the case in all situations, to which I recommend reaching out to a financial aid advisor, and/or advisors at your host institution who are in charge of Travel Study (also known as Study Abroad). In the case that the financial aid you receive is not applicable to cover the costs of your travel studies, you could look for low-cost program options offered by a third-party company, such as CIEE and look for scholarships and grants to cover the costs, for example. You could even participate in Work Away or with a volunteer position in which you could be provided basic living accommodations in exchange for your volunteer work. You should also make a little income, budget, and save. Also, there are so many, many scholarship opportunities out there! So many people want to see students like us thrive and compliment our studies even further by participating in travel study. I myself won about $12,000 total for all my study abroad experiences – I think I won every scholarship I applied to! One example of such a scholarship is the Gilman Scholarship, for students who are Pell Grant recipients, from which I won $5,000. To find these opportunities, you just have to start doing your research and not be afraid to reach out for advice. There are many people out there with answers and access to more resources. Like me, I’m just someone sharing my inside knowledge of as someone who participated and as someone who interned at my school’s study abroad office. Also, might I mention that there are plenty of travel groups full of people who have done this all before that you can join such as Travel Latina and Latinas Who Travel on Facebook and Instagram. Always feel free to look for answers and resources by asking questions!
For some of us, we may be the first ones in our family to have the privilege to travel freely and they might not understand why or how you’re going to do it (at first). Coming from a cultural background where family is very protective and overseeing, having a conversation with your family about your desire to travel study might be a little bit daunting. They might be concerned about the costs, your safety, the general time and distance you’ll be away, among many other factors. If you are worried about how your family might react with the news, be sure to do your research and make yourself well informed about all the concerns thet might have. Be sure to keep the conversation open and mature. You can be flexible with your options, but stand strong with your decision about going. Hopefully they are supportive of you from the beginning and if they are feeling a little uncomfortable with you going, just be ready to provide them with reassurance, information, and compromise if needed. As an adult, you have every right to seek enriching experiences in your life – your family likely just cares about your well-being.
Travel Study Under the Circumstance of Having an Irregular Migratory Status
I would like to address that access to education in general is a privilege and access to international education is an even greater privilege – not everyone can participate in international travel study programs because not everyone can travel internationally. For our friends and family who cannot because of unjust immigration policies, I want to let you know that we hear you, see you, and would like to support you and see you thrive just as well. In the case that you have an irregular immigration status and would like to participate in travel study, you should take a look at internships, field studies, or learning opportunities in other states or territories of the U.S. offered by your learning institution. You should definitely seek out legal support from an immigration attorney, hopefully one that is provided to you by your school. If your institution does not offer undocumented student services, you should seek for legal advice independently. In the past, DACA students were able to realize international study abroad though Advance Parole, but this has since been rescinded and it has been recommended that students with irregular migratory status do not travel internationally. However, there may be travel study programs in the U.S. available to you – you just have to consider factors such as cost and safety, keeping in mind that you never have to disclose your status to anyone at any time.
Higher Education, International Education, and National Exchanges were not designed for students like us who may come from low socio-economic, immigrant family backgrounds, and/or communities of color – however, being college students from the U.S. gives us access to opportunities usually only open to the global elite. The opportunity is ours – we just have to prepare well beforehand and take the chance!