Open Letter to an African-American Mother Who is Hesitant to Let Her Son Study Abroad

Dear Ms. Hines,

I hear you say, “Studying abroad is for other people. My son wouldn’t fit in. What if something happens to him? Black people don’t fly. We can’t afford this anyway.” Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jackie, and yes, I do want your son to study abroad. In order to explain why, I want to tell you a story about where I’m from.

Jackie’s parents.

My mother grew up in a country town called Boley, Oklahoma. Mama had ten siblings, and they lived in a two-room sharecropper’s shack with an outhouse. My grandfather was a Baptist preacher and my grandmother worked at an old-folks home. Although my grandparents barely finished elementary school, they recognized the value of education and because of them, all eleven of their children graduated from high school, and eight of them got college degrees. My father was born in New Iberia, Louisiana to a farmer and a seamstress. When daddy dropped out of school in the 9th grade, my grandpa told him he needed to either get a job and pay rent or go back to school. After a year working as a lawn maintenance person, sweating in the hot sun, he knew that wasn’t the life for him. Despite having to sleep in his car because he couldn’t afford to live in the dorms, my dad graduated from college and became an electrical engineer.

As for me, well my life has been easy compared to my parents. They laid the groundwork for my success. I’ve travelled to 32 countries, lived in 6, and I speak 3 languages. I owe all of that to them and to my grandparents for the struggles they went through to give their children a better life. My parents sacrificed a lot to send me abroad in college and it was one of the greatest gifts they ever gave me. After learning another language and living halfway across the world, I had a fearlessness in confronting life’s challenges that has been with me ever since. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” You are the giant your son relies on to see further than his current circumstance.

According to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, in cities across the United States, African American males are more likely to go to prison than to college. Last year The Washington Post reported that prison spending has risen three times faster than school spending since 1990 (see footnote 1). Due to the lack of educational opportunities being offered in low-income communities, the system is now a school-to-prison pipeline designed for our young people to fail. I want to change that – one child at a time. There is more out there for your son, and we can start by giving him the 21st century skills he needs to compete in the global workforce. We will give him real life, hands on experience no classroom can match. Studying abroad develops the skills that employers of today are looking for: cross-cultural communication, adaptability, problem solving, resilience, critical thinking, self-awareness. Many students of color that do go to college do not graduate because they have not been prepared to thrive in new environments where they are different from everyone else. Over 96% of our alumni are accepted and enrolled in college. Our program teaches students the study habits and life skills they need to stay in college, graduate, and succeed.

Jackie leading students in the Dominican Republic.

We will take care of your son. Last year, I personally ushered 60 high schoolers through our study abroad program in the Dominican Republic and brought them back home safely. According to Diversity Abroad, the Dominican Republic is the most popular destination for U.S. study abroad students in the Caribbean. We are constantly monitoring the situation in our host country and have a plan in place in case of emergency. All of our in-country partners, activities and host families have been carefully vetted, and we have worked with them without incident for years. We train students on safety protocol well in advance of taking off, and someone on staff checks in with them every day to make sure things are going smoothly. We also encourage students to check in regularly with their parents via Skype or phone. I welcome parents to call me whenever they have a question or concern.

Study abroad was never talked about in my family, and no one had ever studied abroad before I did. For us, it was a fear of the unknown. Our pre-departure workshops are extremely thorough and will teach parents and students what to expect. You will learn about the Dominican Republic, its history, culture, laws and people. We will discuss all of the activities we have planned for the students, and you’ll learn about our in-country partners and meet your son’s host family via Skype before he departs. We will provide you with online resources, and we will teach you ways to support your son while he’s away.

No one prepared me for what it would be like as a person of color in Spain. I will make sure that doesn’t happen with your son. As an African-American living for six months in the Dominican Republic, I had a very positive experience and did not experience discrimination, just as most visitors do not. The people of San Juan welcomed me as one of their own. Dominicans represent every color of the human rainbow, from the lightest complexions to the darkest. Because of this, the idea of racial identity is very complex in the DR, and no two people’s experiences are the same. We will talk to you and your son about what it’s like for people of different skin tones. We provide resources on everything from African American hair care in the DR to how you will be perceived as an African American there. Our faculty come from diverse backgrounds and have studied abroad themselves. All in-country staff are trained so that everyone (orientation leaders, homestay coordinators and host families) knows how to support your son in various ways related to identity. We’ve been there, and we will be there for him.

Unlike most international education programs that charge thousands of dollars for the opportunity to study in another country, we work with families to ensure our program is affordable for everyone. We collaborate with local school districts and sponsors to help cover the cost of your son’s year abroad – including housing, meals, travel and tuition. We believe a global education should be accessible to people from all walks of life, not just the wealthy.

Thank you for devoting your life to making a future for your son. This is a crucial moment in his life. The steps you allow him to take today will impact your future generations! Don’t keep him to yourself. Let him see the world and come back a role model and leader of his community. He will thank you for all you have done for him, and you will see the world through his new eyes – eyes that see that black people don’t just fly, we soar!

___________________________________________________________________________

  1. “The states that spend more money on prisoners than college students”, Christopher Ingraham, July 7, 2016

About the Author:  Since her first experience studying abroad in college, Jackie Broussard has felt most at home while learning from and sharing with people of different cultures. Throughout her career, she has worked and lived in Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Spain and Germany. Jackie is fueled by the challenge of inspiring people to transform their lives. Whether teaching marginalized youth in Guatemala, mentoring newcomers to the U.S. or guiding American high school students to become global citizens in the Dominican Republic, she believes that the most profound challenges of our times can be overcome by building intercultural bridges. The most common place to find her at noon on a Tuesday is sweating in her favorite Zumba class.

Note from Melibee Global:  We are grateful to have added Candace Doby to our roster as she speaks about the empowering experience of Travel, Being Black, and Doubt.

  • Zumani Monet

    Great letter! I would love to meet this person and hear more about her guiding students to the Dominican Republic