|Written By: Erica Rawlins|
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Clark Atlanta University
Traveling overseas to Barcelona, Spain provided the lesson to exercise cultural competence. I took a Spanish language and a cross cultural management course. I gained further knowledge of another country’s culture, language, traditions and ways of business. Upon arriving to Barcelona I was unaware of the primary language spoken, Catalan. Differentiating signs, directions and menus between Catalan and Spanish was quite challenging; however the experience pulled me out of my comfort zone. Looking back now, that obstacle strengthened my linguistic skills and patience. Living in a foreign country broadened my perspective. Often times as Americans we can become so consumed in domestic affairs that we become disinterested in what is going on overseas.This may be seen as arrogance from outsiders, due to the lack of American students living overseas. In fact Open Door reports states one in ten Americans go abroad in their academic career compared to the 72% of foreign students in the United States. In order to truly practice cultural competence one must realize the pace of an ever changing world. Societies are constantly evolving and as Americans we must broaden our global perspective.
There is a major disparity between the different types of American students who study abroad. During my stay I was astonished to see how many students of color were in my classrooms, I could count on my hands the amount of students of color. In past discussions many of my African-American peers cannot fathom the thought of financing and temporarily living overseas. According to the IIE’s open door report 5.6% of African Americans study abroad compared to the 8.8% of Hispanics and 73% of Caucasian students. Many are not aware of the abundant resources students can take advantage of to study abroad. In Barcelona I decided to document my journey and adventures through the social media outlet Snapchat. I wanted my friends to feel as if they were actually experiencing what I was experiencing. As a result, throughout my junior year at Clark Atlanta University I helped and encouraged several classmates to make their dreams a reality.
There are various programs encouraging students to venture out of their comfort zone. The IIE program created a program called Generation Abroad. This campaign has a goal to double the number of American students studying in credit or non-credit programs by the end of the decade. Also, President Barack Obama launched an education initiative called 100,000 Strong in the Americas. The goal of the program is to increase U.S. relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. President Obama’s initiative includes expanding study abroad opportunities for both American and international students.
My study abroad experience during the summer of 2015 led me to become interested in foreign affairs. I have a fervent spirit to learn about other cultures and a genuine love for travel. I hope to continue to encourage my peers to study abroad and experience the vast diversity the world offers. As a global citizen, do not hesitate to expand your perspective through study abroad, you would be surprise how fast the world could become your oyster.