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Changing the Face of International Travel

September 12, 2012

In my previous post, Only Weird People Volunteer Abroad, I discussed the impacts of having a skewed demographic unknowingly perpetuate white privilege through volunteer work. However, today I want to discuss why it is necessary to create opportunities for low-income and minority students to be able to travel. In a study by Benjamin Lough, he found that 88% of international volunteers are white and 1 in 3 volunteers are from households with an income of 100,000 dollars or more. While international travel can be considered a luxury, I believe it is incredibly important for everyone to have the opportunity to study abroad.

First, perceptions of America are largely based on international volunteers, students studying abroad, and youth travelers. As America is not 88% white, nor do 1 in 3 of us make 100,000 dollars or more, it is an inaccurate representation of our country. I still remember vividly realizing how we are perceived abroad when I was in Kenya. During our Week of Prayer, myself and other students were invited to preach on something important to us and many discussed divorce, death of a family member or friend, struggles with body image, and other challenges. After preaching, I asked my cohort what they learned after the Week of Prayer and one girl said, “I learned that mzungus (white people) also have problems”. I do not believe it is possible to create equal partnerships with developing countries if this is how America is perceived.

The Face of International Travel

Unfortunately, if you have searched for a job lately (especially in the international non-profit field), the competition is stiff and travel experience can set you apart. Potential employees are always more interested in my time in Kenya, compared to multiple years I spent working within the Associated Students, which I feel is more indicative of my work ethic. Even unpaid internships in the international affairs field require global experience. Unfortunately program fees, airfare, medical expenses, and accommodations can add up. There are free programs (Peace Corps comes to mind) but a 27 month commitment is huge for someone who has never left the country. Thus, it is difficult to encourage global citizenship when a cycle begins to emerge. Those with the financial resources can travel, build up their resume, and get a job in an international field. When they have children, their kids have these same opportunities for growth. On the other side, low-income and minority students might feel that traveling is not accessible to them.
At the Passport Epilogues, we want to encourage mindful traveling and we believe that part of being mindful is critically thinking about how accessible international opportunities are to the general population and what we can do to improve this. One thing I’ve noticed is that media portrayal of international volunteering seems to be targeting a certain population. A quick Google search of international volunteering shows a predominantly young white demographic which may discourage others from applying. Second, travel experiences, outside of study abroad, depict volunteering and serving a needy population as the predominant function of the trip. While we have people in need in the USA, this also might discourage low-income students if they don’t have much to spare. If instead, we portray international volunteering as a learning experience first and an altruistic endeavor second, these opportunities might be more approachable. While traveling can be considered a luxury, the world is getting smaller and everyone will need the tools to work effectively across cultures in a global environment.

In addition, if we are to make travel accessible to undeserved populations, we will need to set aside resources to do it. I’ve been throwing around the idea of creating a scholarship fund for low-income and minority students for either study abroad or international experiences but I’m not sure how to set this up or even collect funds to do it. Speaking to friends who have taken out huge loans to travel, I know it dramatically changed their life and career path. I don’t feel like
I can be a mindful citizen without acknowledging these disparities in our country. Obviously this will require research, as well as a better idea of who is eligible, what sort of programs or company I could work through, as well as recruiting additional hands. So if anyone is interested in being part of this project, through outreach, fundraising, event programming etc, let me know and we can start a brainstorming session! Comments and questions below are welcome!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2012 1:35 pm

    I absolutely love this idea & wish I had more concrete ideas on how to help. I volunteer with a group that helps low-income, first-generation students graduate HS & continue on to college… while a (program sponsored) international ‘trip’ is required, I’ve been arguing for incorporating volunteerism as a way to build altruism, gain confidence, etc. Is there a sort of kickstarter.com for scholarship funds? I know there’ve gotta be others out there who feel strongly about this and would be happy to contribute. Great job bringing attention to this issue.

    • September 12, 2012 1:50 pm

      Have you ever heard of service-learning? I took a service learning trip through WWU to Kenya. It’s essentially a mix of studying abroad and volunteering, where partnering with our community organizations is combined with reflection exercises, studying globalization and culture, etc. I would really like to see that model instigated more often, for volunteering without active reflection can perpetuate the very stereotypes we are trying to avoid!

      I should look into it! I have a meeting with the WWU foundation to discuss options for setting up a scholarship but that would also limit who would donate. I should do some research and see if there are any platforms that could help, rather than me just accepting cash 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

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  1. Creating a Scholarship for Low-Income/Minority Students to Study Abroad « The Passport Epilogues

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