Though hundreds of students study abroad each semester, reports indicate that minority students may be hesitant to do so.
Office of International Programs Executive Director Anne Waters said her office is currently trying to obtain better data on this issue in order to detect trends and prevent problems.
“We do know that some students of color may face different challenges while abroad,” she said, adding that Penn hosts a special pre-abroad orientation for minority students.
Those specialized outreach programs for minorities could be more successful if Penn Abroad had more data on the issue, according to Waters.
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month indicated that nearly 82 percent of students who study abroad are white, and “the gap between white and minority students in study abroad has widened over the past decade.”
While College junior Naeemah Philippeaux felt some reservations about going abroad, she ultimately decided to study in London next spring. Still, she did a lot of research because she “wanted to travel to a place where I would feel generally accepted as a minority.”
Philippeaux thinks that only those who have always wanted to, like herself, will do the research and choose to go.
Wharton junior Pallavi Thatai, an Indian citizen with an American green card, is currently abroad in Hong Kong.
A group of students there decided to go to the Philippines for a trip at the end of September. The Americans inquired about visas and were told they’d get them on their arrival in the Philippines.
Thatai, not thinking her case would be any different, found out upon her arrival that because she is Indian she was supposed to have gotten a visa before leaving Hong Kong.
“They did not help me in any way. They took my cell phone, passport and credit cards and put me in a detention room,” she said.
Thatai was asked to pay a fee of $30 but was not allowed to access an ATM unless she gave the guards her PIN number, which she refused to do.
“They put me back in the detention room with a man from Ghana who had been there a month,” she said. She was not able to call her parents since all pay phones were out of order and her phone was confiscated.
“While I should have checked my visa status before I left, I did not think I would be any different from the Norwegian, South African, Swiss or American students I was traveling with,” she said.
“I can’t blame this on anyone. Penn did tell me to be careful,” she said, although she wishes there had been more information about dealing with such situations.
In the end, Thatai was released when another woman passing through paid for her. Thatai was the only student in her predominantly Caucasian group of 40 to be detained and felt “very powerless” since she was a female alone with three male guards for over 20 hours.
Wharton junior Rahel Aklilu said she believed one of the main reasons minorities don’t study abroad as often as other students do is “because of the perception of minorities abroad.”
As she and her friends were deciding whether or not to study abroad, they eliminated places like Spain and Italy “because of the way they perceive blacks in these countries.”
Wharton senior Jessica Stewart experienced difficulties when she was abroad in Egypt last fall.
“People thought I was a prostitute, there was definitely a lot of racism,” she said.
While Stewart said her experience is not necessarily indicative of other minorities’ situations abroad, she “didn’t know any of this stuff” before going to Cairo and wishes that Penn would tell its minority students that countries like Egypt might be more hostile to minorities.
“Penn probably doesn’t want to discourage students from going to the places they want to study, but should definitely warn them,” she said.
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