Latino Students Studying Abroad

Hispanic Community March 2021 PREMIUM
Editor’s Note: Encouraging Hispanic/Latino students to explore the world: Interview with Daniel García, Global Education Advisor at Chapman University.

Daniel García identifies as a Latino man, specifically Mexican-American. He is a third-generation U.S. citizen and second-generation college graduate who has studied and taught abroad in three Latin American countries. He has also conducted research on the participation of first-generation Latino men in Study Abroad. In 2019, Daniel joined the Center for Global Education at Chapman University as a Global Education Advisor for the Argyros School of Business and Economics. In his current role, he has been able to draw on insights from his own time abroad and his research with Latino men to design and implement strategies to support Latino students’ participation in study abroad. Although the pandemic has slowed down study abroad applications, he is hopeful that these support strategies for Latino students will bear fruit over the coming years.

Q: How did your life experiences lead you to a career in Postsecondary Education and Student Affairs? Why has this area interested you?

García: I developed an interest in travel by studying abroad in Argentina in college. I had also considered becoming an elementary or high school teacher. So, I combined my interest in travel with my career prospects as a teacher by seeking English-teaching opportunities abroad upon graduating from college. I taught for two years in Costa Rica and Colombia. As I reflected on the experience, I realized that I was the only male Latino student on my study abroad program and the only male Latino teacher from the U.S. throughout my English-teacher career abroad. I decided to return to the U.S. to pursue a career in postsecondary education, and focus on increasing the number of Latino men in education abroad and supporting them better.

Q: How were you able to avail the opportunity to study abroad in Argentina, and what were the highlights of this experience for you?

García: I probably would not have studied abroad if my older brother had not studied abroad. I saw his path through education as the correct path to take, and he exposed me to the experience by studying abroad at the University of Sydney. I, however, pursued my own interest during my semester abroad, as I sought to improve my Spanish and re-root myself in my Latinx culture. I enjoyed practicing Spanish with my host mother Eldita, learning about Argentine culture and history both through my courses and through my conversations with locals such as Eldita, and living independently and forging a life on my own.

Q: What were the main challenges and opportunities you faced while studying and teaching abroad? How did being Latino influence or affect these experiences?

García: I chose to study abroad in Latin America to identify my place in my Latinx origin. I am Mexican-American. While growing up, and still today, one of these cultures becomes more salient than the other depending on what I’m doing, where I am, how I’m dressed, and with whom I am. For example, if I’m with a group of friends who grew up speaking Spanish in their household, I may not be truly Mexican or Latinx to them. If I’m with a group of friends who are White, I may not be truly American to them. I went to Argentina to resolve this personal dichotomy for myself, but when I arrived, the dichotomy continued. Local Argentines, Costa Ricans, and Colombians grouped me together with the gringos. I was denied the transcendence into the culture that I had sought, because of my multiculturalism. On the other hand, I never fully related with any of my peers or colleagues abroad. Throughout my experience in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Colombia, I learned and came to terms with what it meant for me to be multicultural. While this was a personal challenge, it was also an opportunity to share with the international community how diverse the U.S. population is. I felt empowered to speak and explain my family’s story with locals, especially the most skeptical ones, so that they understood that not all Americans are White, blonde, and have blue eyes.

Q: Please tell us a bit about the work of the Center for Global Education at Chapman University, and your role as Global Education Advisor.

García: The Center for Global Education sends Chapman students on study abroad programs and also receives exchange students from universities around the world. As an advisor, I advise students for a specific Chapman college. In addition to my advising responsibilities, I implement programming across and beyond campus related to education abroad, such as presentations, resources, collaborations, and more. For example, I host our office’s podcast which anyone can listen to on Spotify called, “Chapman Study Abroad Podcast.” I also process our incoming exchange students.

Q: Does the Center for Global Education offer any specific scholarships/services/mentoring for Hispanic/Latino students?

García: At the Center for Global Education, we assist Latinx students in four specific ways: 1) We offer informational material that is translated in Spanish. We encourage students with Spanish-speaking parents to share these materials with their guardians, including resources explaining the concept of studying abroad, the benefits of it, and safety measures in place. 2) In addition to our pre-departure orientation for all families, we also host a pre-departure orientation in Spanish, specifically for our Spanish-speaking parents. 3) Every fall semester during International Education Week, we host a panel of a Latinx study abroad alumni so prospective students have the opportunity to speak with and hear from alumni with whom they may relate. 4) In the spring, I also host an information session/application workshop for the Latinx club on campus. During the information session, we review the students’ opportunities abroad and also discuss important considerations within the Latinx community with studying abroad. The event ends with an application workshop so students can fill out the application with my help as well as the help of students who have already participated.

Q: There are a series of interesting trends in study abroad at the moment. One of these is that the percentage of Hispanic/Latino students studying abroad has increased notably over the past decade. What do you think are some of the factors spurring this trend?

García: The Latinx community is the fastest growing population in the U.S., especially in California. I think the percentage of Latinx students in education abroad has increased primarily because as more Latinx students go to college, more are seizing the opportunity. However, I don’t think there has been a shift in the culture yet that would endorse the experience. We are laying the foundation for that shift as more Latinx generations are born in the U.S., and more parents have gone to college and studied abroad themselves.

Q: You have conducted very interesting research on the lack of Latino men in study abroad. Why were you interested in exploring this particular topic, and what were the main findings of your research?

García: As mentioned earlier, my own experience studying and teaching abroad led me to realize that there was a dearth of Latino men in education abroad. The main findings of my research, involving first-generation, low-income Latino men who had studied abroad, include the following: A.) My participants were encouraged to participate in study abroad through older male Latino peers that they admired on campus, and who had a strong influence on them. B) My participants strongly felt a sense of loyalty to their families, which became something that they needed to address prior to departing. As first-generation students, parents were unaware of the concept of studying abroad and previously associated traveling with only vacation, fun, and relaxation.  As a result, they preferred that their sons and daughters stay home, be with family, and contribute financially. C.) My participants also felt a strong commitment to their communities both back home and on-campus, which became something that they needed to address prior to departure.  Students felt that studying abroad was "selfish" because they were "abandoning" the on-campus cultural organizations that they were leading as well as the hometowns that they were from. D.) Machismo played a role in their decision to participate, since traditional masculine roles expect the man to be the main breadwinner and a pillar of the community. Thus, my participants were drawn to programs that included professional development or were service-oriented.  Because of their commitment to community, I believe that the students who chose service-oriented programs did so because they felt like they would still be giving back abroad while also doing something "for themselves."  Other students that chose programs with internships did so because they perceived a direct relation to their professional development while studying abroad.

Q: What are the main recommendations that stem from your research?

García: First, study abroad offices should put on application workshops in cultural organizations for first-generation Latino men.  In these workshops, students can work in pairs to fill out the entire study abroad application on-site.  Considering the influence that male Latino peers have on each other, this would be a great way to simplify the process and increase the applications of Latino men on your campus.

Secondly, Study abroad offices should create an information sheet on the concept of studying abroad that first-generation students can take home, learn from, and share with their families.  The information sheet can explain not only the academic value of participating but also the professional and personal development that can occur (NACE competencies can be referenced). It should also include personal safety protocols that students can take as well as safety policies that the school and programs have in place.

Q: In addition to your insights on Latino men in study abroad, what other obstacles and opportunities do you see for Hispanic students overall who want to study abroad?

García: I think some of the factors that influenced my research participants, based on their Latinx identities, are transferable to all genders. For example, financial burdens must be overcome by everyone. Familismo (the strong sense of loyalty to one’s family within the Latinx community) played a role in that my students had to see a career benefit to their experience abroad. Studying abroad had to be somehow tied to making money in the future, because they felt pressure to financially support their families in the future. Although the same pressure isn’t always dealt upon Latina women, they may still feel the need to stay close to home, which is a quality of familismo. Additionally, my students felt selfish for studying abroad because they felt they were abandoning their mentees and clubs on campus and their communities at home. I think that there is an urge to give back within the Latinx community regardless of gender.

Q: Another notable trend in study abroad has been the increase of short-term programs (summer term, or 8-week programs throughout the semester) and the decline of semester-long or year-long programs. In your view, are Hispanic/Latino students more likely to apply for short-term programs, and why?

García: 70% of my research participants partook in a summer program. I think Latinx students feeling the pressure from familisimo and their commitments to their communities may seek a short-term program so that they will not be away for so long and because they may perceive it as cheaper since it is not as long. However, summer programs can be expensive because financial aid isn’t always applicable.

Q: Finally, Latin America continues to be extremely popular as a host region (it is in second place, after Europe). What is your view on “heritage programs” for Hispanic/Latino students? Would you encourage Hispanic/Latino students to explore their Latin American roots or to go further afield, if given the opportunity?

García: Heritage programs provide students the opportunity to find their place in their culture. They are the reason I studied abroad. I see value in them, but I think it is incumbent on education abroad advisors and administrators to discuss the intricacies of this relationship. I would have benefitted from discussing potential ways the experience could unfold. That would have helped me process the experience.

I also think some students participate in heritage programs due to familial pressure and overlook other programs that could fit their personal preferences properly. I would like to move away from the idea within the Latin community that studying abroad is selfish. Studying abroad is a traditional aspect of American higher education irrespective of ethnicity, race, gender, or other identity. Students should consider their personal reasons for studying abroad and hold those considerations paramount. 

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