Despite all the challenges that come with studying abroad, it is by far one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Prior to being a student at Michigan no one in my family, myself included, had ever gone to another country, no one except for me had ever even owned a passport. So when I told my parents that I would be going on two study abroad programs to London, UK, and Querétaro, Mexico, directly after the end of my freshman year, I got some of the following responses, “NO!”, “Absolutely not!”, “Who’s paying for this?”, “Other countries don’t function like the States so you’re putting yourself in danger.”, “Are there even other black people there?'' “Why can’t you just do something in Michigan?”
I knew there would be resistance because of my parents’ fear. They never had the opportunity to travel the world so their knowledge was limited to what was portrayed in the media, which is almost never positive, especially for young black men. This experience was completely new for them and me. It was something they could not prevent me from doing, protect me from, or really advise me on. With all this in mind I knew I had to do a significant amount of research on the locations I was going to, the languages spoken there, cultural norms, how my identities would be perceived abroad, safety, and how airports even worked as it would be my first time on a plane.
Despite being nervous about the process of going abroad, I was more nervous about how I was going to fund the program knowing my parents would not be able to contribute much financial support. It’s not typical for students to go on multiple trips, let alone in the same summer after their first year, so I had to get really creative with how I applied and used my funding. As a freshman, I was fortunate to be a CSP Summer Bridge Scholar and an RC student. These two communities helped me immensely with getting connected to the study abroad office, learning about the study abroad programs, gaining skills needed to go abroad, and securing funding to pay for the abroad programs. The RC specifically provided me with funding that was only available to RC students, which made it a lot easier to receive since I wasn’t in competition for funding with thousands of other students. Additionally, as an RC Spanish student, I was able to effectively communicate and translate for the non-Spanish speaking students and local people during the Mexico trip. Being able to talk to people in their native language was one of the most rewarding aspects of the trips and it led to stronger relationships and more meaningful experiences. I would eventually use these resources and more to study abroad again on a program in Madrid, Spain, after my sophomore year.
All of my abroad experiences were very different and had a major influence on how I saw the world, others, and myself. Going abroad challenged everything I knew about what it means to be Black in a global context, how my North American nationality and native English speaking abilities influenced the conversations or lack thereof that I had, and what lessons and values I wanted to follow to build a better and happier community. Although I gained a lot of knowledge and wisdom from these experiences, one of the most important outcomes from all of my programs was the relationships that I made and sustained. I met some of the best people in the world, some of which I would never have met without going abroad. The memories of laughter, tears, and happiness are to this day what I consider to be some of my most valuable possessions.
Learn local (foreign language) words/phrases/slang before going abroad
This is extremely helpful for your safety (e.g. get lost, get hurt, needs assistance)
Coming from the States there is a stigma and sense of dominance associated with being from the States, so showing effort to learn the local language helps foster positive social interactions
Talk with everyone in your abroad cohort
These are people that you may never have the opportunity to meet outside of this trip
Some of these people can or will be some of your best friends and highlights of your college career
Talk with parents/guardians before/while considering/applying for a program
Studying abroad impacts more than you might know, such as your parents
Even if they have never gone abroad before they can still help prepare you and think about things you never would have considered
Review the budget sheet, think of other costs (medication, souvenirs, etc.) and create a plan on what funding opportunities you are eligible for and their deadlines
Reach out to people, departments, and your network to help receive or get connected to funding opportunities
Don’t procrastinate scholarship applications
Don't let money limit you, it may be stressful and difficult but there are many funding opportunities and people through the school that can help you if take the initiative and ask for it
About the author
Brandon Bond graduated in May 2020 with degrees in Biopsychology, Cognition, Neuroscience, and International Studies: Global Environment & Health with a minor in Community Action Social Change. As an RC student, Brandon not only participated in the Intensive Spanish program but branched out and completed the American Sign Language (ASL) sequence and studied Portuguese. To utilize his language skills, he participated in 3 CGIS study abroad programs in the UK, Mexico, and Spain and the first-ever RC Social Justice/Community Engagement Internship program in Brazil. Despite his travels, Brandon always found his way back home at the RC. Since the first day of his freshman year, Brandon has worked as an RC Admissions Assistant helping to recruit and navigate future generations of RC’ers. Aside from that, he’s participated in the RC forums, served as the Hinsdale Hall Representative his freshman year, transitioned from a mentee to mentor in the RC MAP program, RC music courses (Chinese music, Indonesian Orchestra, and Afro-Cuban Drumming) and worked as an RC Summer PA and RA. With all the skills and experiences Brandon has developed over the years, he will continue his passion for community engagement by pursuing a dual master's in Social Work and Public Health this upcoming Fall as he remains hoMe here at the University of Michigan!