Black and Abroad Virtual Series

Bridgewater College Joins Four Other Virginia Schools to Promote Study Abroad Programs

Black+and+Abroad

Photo by Jordan Davis

Black + Abroad has evolved into a collaboration with several Virginia higher education institutions to share Black student experiences and engage with students interested in study abroad. The series is hosted by study abroad alumni, who are students of color.

Jordan Davis, Staff Writer

Bridgewater, Va. – The annual commencement of the Black + Abroad Virtual Series began on March 1. Black + Abroad is a series that aims at closing the gap between being Black and going abroad. 

Black + Abroad started in 2016 at Virginia Commonwealth University. The program was originally a day-long in-person event primarily run by students of color who had studied abroad.  These students would share their experiences and engage with others interested in studying abroad.

Although VCU established the original event, they do not have any Black study abroad alumni at the moment due to the pandemic, which resulted in VCU reaching out to other schools in Virginia to help facilitate the event virtually. 

Simone Biasuzzi, VCU’s education abroad advisor, engaged with many Virginia schools during the Virginia International Educators meeting. Anne Marsh, director of study abroad at Bridgewater College, was in attendance at the meeting.

“I am a one-person office,” said Marsh. “Therefore, I am always looking for ways to collaborate with colleagues on projects and programs and I jumped at the chance.”

Marsh is on the planning committee along with a representative from Virginia Commonwealth University, Shenandoah University, Randolph-Macon University and Hollins University. The committee also includes international education staff from the schools and student volunteers.

Marsh stated that the other four schools and herself meet regularly to “hash out logistics with each school designating a point person for a session,” which allows every point person to have a varied responsibility whether in charge of marketing or other logistics.

The virtual series leading objective is to establish a space for Black students to share their opinions, questions and doubts about traveling abroad. This space allows students to take part in a detailed discussion of personal experiences and educational information from alumni of color and education abroad advisors.

“We want students of color to attend the sessions and feel inspired and motivated to go abroad,” said Marsh.

The Black + Abroad mission statement encourages students of color to listen to their peers, engage in truthful discussions, and learn about how to overcome financial, practical and racial challenges when studying abroad.

Black + Abroad is not only for students but for advisors as well. Advisors are able to gain further insight into the perspectives of their Black students to serve their needs more efficiently and equitably.

“Nationally, students identifying as Black or African American make-up only 6% of study abroad participants,” said Marsh. “While Bridgewater does better than the national average, (10-15%), study abroad participation rates do not accurately reflect our student demographics.”

By participating in each of the virtual events, students can contribute to the conversation about navigating their Black identity outside of the U.S. Students learn about resources to be successful, how to overcome barriers and what alumni wish they had known before studying abroad.

Student presenters have studied abroad in a multitude of different locations from London to Ludwigsburg and from India to Japan.

Recent Bridgewater College graduate Alexus Carter, 2019, is serving as a panelist for two sessions. Carter went to Thailand in the Spring of 2019. Carter presented at the March 1 session and will be participating in the March 16 session.

“Hopefully the content will be relevant for every student,” said Biasuzzi. “I want everyone to leave with knowledge about three things that they have learned from guest speakers and our presentations that are helpful about funding and the importance of studying abroad.”

“Students have been involved in every step of developing this event and we hope that comes through in the content,” said Marsh.

Every session is recorded, except for the March 16 session, and if a student misses a session, the video is available.  

“We designed it to be a student-to-student conversation exclusively between study abroad alumni and students of color, so to encourage candor and forthright discussion we are limiting attendance and not recording,” said Marsh.

“We hope that by the end of this event, advisors and students can no longer state that ‘we don’t know what we don’t know about Black students’ experiences and concerns surrounding study abroad,” states the Black + Abroad mission statement.