For half a century, Spelman College has been sending students overseas to enhance their academic growth and increase their global exposure. But, it’s the past two decades that have seen the strongest growth in a more formalized Study Abroad and International Exchange Program under the guidance of Margery A. Ganz, Ph.D., history professor and director of Study Abroad.
“When I came to the College in 1981, there were two students who traveled abroad a year,” said Dr. Ganz of the initiative that started in the early 60s with the Merrill Scholarship providing international opportunities for students, who included former U.S. Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal, C’65, and Marian Wright Edelman, C’60, who founded the Children’s Defense Fund. “Now, 2009-2010 has been our best year with 85 students participating in the program.”
The students traveled to nearly 20 countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, China, South Africa, Argentina, Japan, Morocco and Turkey. The program is sending its first students to Rwanda and Uganda this fall.
“What’s really exciting is seeing the desire of the students to have an international experience,” explained Ganz. “We no longer have to recruit students, they come to us.”
Brittanye Mackey, C’2011, is one of those who eagerly sought out the study abroad program. “I’ve been interested in traveling abroad since my first trip when I was 13 years old and visited Germany, France, and the Netherlands,” said Mackey, who spent the fall 2009 semester in Rennes, France, and spring 2010 in Dakar, Senegal. “Apart from enhancing my language abilities, my time abroad forced me out of my comfort zone and I absolutely loved it! I have a great appreciation and understanding of cultures and traditions different than my own.”
Like many of the Spelman students who participate in study abroad, Mackey would have been unable to have her international experience had she not been the recipient of numerous scholarships that support global learning. Last year 22 students won coveted Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships, seven were awarded Fulbright Fellowships, and others received prestigious awards.
The program recently received a $151,000 grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. Department of State to develop new partnerships for Spelman with Brazil, China and Turkey. The funds will support the creation of summer programs in those countries starting in the summer of 2011. While Study Abroad was able to award $110,000 in scholarship aid through spring 2011, Dr. Ganz said the program still isn’t able to meet the needs of every student who would benefit from global learning.
Undergraduates with international experiences are finding themselves more attractive to potential global employers, especially in a challenging economic environment. Colleen Taylor, C’90, an executive vice president with Capital One who was recently named one of Black Enterprise magazine’s 2010 “75 Most Powerful Women in Business,” studied abroad in the fall of 1988 at Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
“It was an awesome, life-changing experience,” said Taylor. “I can’t stress enough how important it is for students to do a semester or year abroad. It separated me as candidate in my job search as a senior in college,” explained Taylor. “As Black women we need to be able to compete with people from other colleges where they vacation in Europe. For us to be able to say I spent a year in Thailand; I spent a year in the UK; I spent a year in Russia; it makes people understand that we are not only brighter, but we are absolutely capable.” – Lorraine Robertson is an Atlanta-based author, freelance writer, and regular contributor to Inside Spelman.