Cultural Vistas Blog

Surviving Study Abroad as a Minority

As someone who works in international education, I get to see the many benefits that international exchange experiences provide for program participants on a daily basis. That is why I am particularly struck by the low numbers of minorities who choose to travel abroad.

NAACP co-founder, W.E.B. Dubois, famously said “Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men.” In the context of international education, that training also extends beyond borders.

The Institute of International Education reports that only 29.2% of participants of U.S. students who study abroad self-report as minorities—and only 6.1% identify as black Americans. The most commonly cited barriers to participation include financial challenges, lack of information, and biased impressions of what exchange participants should look like.

But as a black American with experience abroad and a career in international education, I strongly believe that you should go global, regardless of what you look like. Encountering new cultures, gaining cross-cultural skills, working in new environments, and forming lasting connections can all help us understand what it means to be part of our own country and culture.

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Three Countries, Fifteen Fellows, and One Life-Changing Summer

Come spring semester, it seems like all college students start hunting for internships—and landing an international one is like hitting the jackpot.

Besides their many professional benefits, international internships give students a chance to travel, immerse in a new culture, discover their true callings, as well as make lifelong connections and friendships.

Despite continued strides and the growing demand for a globally-competent workforce, less than 2% of all U.S. college students study or intern abroad every year, and even fewer are members of underserved communities. One of the reasons why is undoubtedly the heavy price tag associated with it. Some students raise funds, receive scholarships, or get support from their parents, but a vast majority are deprived of such benefits.

Since 2013, Cultural Vistas, together with the support of its alumni and donor communities, has removed cost as an obstacle for more than 75 American undergraduate students through the Cultural Vistas Fellowship. This year, the seventh and largest cohort of students to date (15) spent their summers in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Hong Kong interning at organizations dedicated to promoting health, education, human rights, minority rights, and equal opportunities for all.

Read on to learn about their transformative summer experiences.

The 15 Cultural Vistas Fellows that spent their summers in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Hong Kong.

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Five Innovations to Shape Southeast Asia’s Future

The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Seeds for the Future small grants competition provides funding to Southeast Asia’s most promising young leaders, enabling them to carry out projects that uplift communities across the ASEAN region through civic engagement, education, economic growth, and sustainable development.

Being involved with the competition has helped me realize that building the leadership capabilities of young social innovators, leaders, and agents of change is one of the most effective ways to overcome the world’s biggest challenges.

This year, 21 projects were selected from over 400 applications to be implemented over the course of nine months. While some of these are small initiatives affecting lives in local communities, others are ambitious programs with an impact that can be felt across borders.

Read on to learn about five of the unique initiatives that are positively impacting Southeast Asia’s future.

RISE Impact, one of the recipients of YSEALI small grants funding, offers a unique mentor-driven incubation program, educational workshops, and an impact venture clinic.

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Supporting Global Human Rights as a Muskie Intern in the U.S.

“I’ve got my visa, I’m coming!” Ying Xin texted me in the middle of the night.

Ying is an LGBTIQ rights activist from China participating in Columbia University’s 2019 Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP).

As an HRAP participant, she will soon be coming to New York City for four months to attend graduate classes at Columbia University, meet with international human rights organizations, and develop future partnerships that could help her in advancing LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, intersex and queer/questioning) rights in China.

Ying Xin speaks at the 10-year anniversary of the Beijing LGBT Center, where she serves as its executive director.

As happy as Ying was to receive her visa, I was even more excited for her because I knew more about all the excellent opportunities she was about to experience in the U.S.

It was also easy for me to relate to her. I myself am interning with HRAP as a participant of the Edmund S. Muskie Internship program from Georgia, and I remember feeling the same excitement when I was accepted into my program.

Since I began working with HRAP, I’ve had the privilege of reliving the same sort of excitement for numerous human rights advocates from countries all over the globe, including Zimbabwe, Uganda, Chad, China, Mexico, Argentina, Ireland, Mauritania, and more.

Find out why I traveled all the way to the U.S. from Georgia to support human rights advocates all around the world.

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Exchange Day 2019: Giving Bread and Preserving History

Cultural Vistas celebrated the sixth annual Exchange Day with two separate organized community service events held on Saturday, August 3 in Washington, D.C. and Sunday, August 4 in New York City.

Exchange participants, staff, and friends of Cultural Vistas gathered in each city to “eat. play. give.” as a way to celebrate the impact of international exchanges and the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program.

Even before the “eat” and “play” portions of Exchange Day, our volunteers in D.C. were in remarkably good spirits.

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