Collegial Conversation on Breaking Barriers: Why and How Nontraditional Students Study Abroad - Webinar Follow-Up

November 05, 2009

Following the Breaking Barriers: Why and How Nontraditional Students Study Abroad webinar, our presenters answered follow-up questions.


Collegial Conversation Participants (CC):

Moderator: Mandy Reinig, AREA Network Leader, Pennsylvania State University-Altoona

The Education Abroad Knowledge Community has a Subcommittee for Underrepresentation in Education Abroad, which is dedicated to providing resources on underrepresented students in education abroad. The co-chairs for this subcommittee, Olivia Emilia Hardin, Mobility International USA and Nyieta Charlot, Montclair State University have also responded to the questions below (Underrep):

Who is underrepresented in study abroad?

Collegial Conversation Participants: Ethnic groups and Students of Color are typically considered underrepresented. Older returning students and students with dependents are also considered a part of this category. What about Science and Engineering majors? What about men?

Subcommittee for Underrepresentation in Education Abroad: Students of minority ethnic/racial groups, in science/math/engineering/agricultural or other majors (such as education) that have an inflexible progression of coursework, who are male, who are first generation college students, who have disabilities, identifying as GLBTQ, of lower socio-economic status, and who are non-traditional students or have dependents.

Any group in which representation on college campuses is not reflected in study/intern abroad numbers. Some of the above-mentioned groups may be better described as being undersupported groups. By this we mean that it might not have been shown through data that the group is underrepresented in numbers, but the group often gets mentioned as underrepresented – perhaps because of the recognition that the group may face unique issues while abroad. Two examples may include students who identify as GLBTQ or who have mental health-related or learning disabilities.

What are some ideas to attract those different groups of underrepresented students to study abroad?

CC: An office which reflects diversity (including office décor and holiday celebrations), outreach to campus clubs, organizations and campus units which provide services to these groups. Posters which reflect diversity. Peer advisors students and staff with whom prospective students can relate. Outreach in classes and partnerships with academic departments. Make allies among faculty who are role models and will encourage students to study abroad. How does your office look?


  • Improve support of underrepresented and undersupported students abroad so that they will pass their positive experience on to others.
  • Increased representation of underrepresented groups in outreach materials and articles.
  • Inclusion of "voices" on our websites that speak to diverse students. Also prominently addressing typical issues on our websites.
  • Increased financial assistance opportunities.
  • Outreach to community members who would connect consider creating/supporting specific scholarships that are directed towards these groups.
  • Scholarships specifically for funding accommodations for students with disabilities (for example, ASL interpreters or personal aides)
  • Increasing opportunities for students from underrepresented majors to attend programs in which the credits transfer back easily
  • Creative thinking on overcoming barriers to participation, such as accessibility issues
  • Working in communities to develop an interest in other cultures at a young age
  • Outreach to families that address their concerns about study abroad
  • Targeted outreach on campus to offices that give support to diverse student. For example, Diversity Officers, Adult Learning offices, Disability Services offices, etc.

What is the effect of the media and media images on the general opinion of study abroad?

CC: Images of study abroad in the media are almost exclusively white students (and mostly white female students). Students who do not fit this description AND the people who advise them may not even have study abroad on their radar and if they do may not even consider this to be an option. "Not for people like me" syndrome.

Where are underrepresented students going abroad? Why there?

CC: Heritage programs (destinations). Europe (France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia – countries with a reputation for tolerance and multi-culturalism; Germany due to familiarity through relatives serving in the Army. Some advisors believe that many students of color will gravitate towards destinations where they feel they can travel and make academic progress (just like most students). Do they choose a specific country or, instead, want to be in a geographic location? How do you advise regarding academic goals in conjunction with student's preference for a country?

Underrep: We're not sure if there is a strong distinction between where these students are going versus other students. We have noticed some higher numbers can be found on programs where the focus relates to self-identification – such as to locations to which the student's heritage can be traced, programs studying disability issues, or science/engineering programs. There are also programs that are specifically for people from underrepresented groups such as Deaf-specific programs. We would be interested to know the observations of others on this.

What are some important things to consider when working with underrepresented groups?

CC: Family, friends, cost. As advisors we need to gain an understanding of the student's needs and backgrounds. Even within an ethnic group, there is diversity. For example, not all Hispanic students are first-generation, low income students, and we sometimes can make assumptions as administrators/advisors. We need to understand that, perhaps, traveling/studying abroad may not be a tradition in the student's family and we need to be sensitive and supportive. We need to be careful of making snap judgments about a student's interest based on race, ethnicity, SES, etc.

Underrep: Students may need extra encouragement – especially if they are receiving discouragement from other sources. We hear from so many students who hear a discouraging word and think "well, it wasn't really for me anyway." At the same time, it is important to be frank with students about what they might encounter while abroad. Give students the honest information they need to make informed decisions and avoid assuming what would be best for the student.

Students may also need extra follow up and with advisors so they don't get lost in or discouraged with the process. However, attracting students is only part of the process. Both US-based and field staff should be trained on providing support to students from underrepresented/undersupported groups.

What are some resources you have found useful in working with underrepresented groups of students?

CC: Inclusive photos, videos, peer mentors/students who can act as role models. Perhaps an international student club with international students, study abroad alumni and study abroad applicants? Students, staff, and faculty who can also serve as role models/mentors. "If they can do it, so can I!"

Underrep: There are so many great resources out there, but a big challenge is that they are not very centrally located and/or publicized. MIUSA works primarily with students with disabilities, and our website has many resources related to this group ( is another helpful resource.