By ANA LUIZA NICOLE
A recent panel by the Office of International Education (OIE) focused on increasing racial inclusion in study abroad programs. In a candid conversation about the recent happenings at the OIE, Camila Nardozzi, current Director of the OIE, has agreed to address the questions which arose from this event: Is student representation of Harvard abroad proportional to student groups on campus? If not, what might be the reasons for this socioeconomic and racial divide in participation in the study abroad programs?
While it is difficult to assert an estimate of the racial or socioeconomic demographics of students interested in studying abroad, Nardozzi’s speculative opinion is that “Harvard is like most similar institutions’’ in that its representation abroad is less often assured for low-income, first-generation students or students of color. Recent OIE efforts, however, are trying to counter that by ensuring that such considerations like race, gender identity, and class background do not hinder a student’s willingness to study abroad or their enjoyment of such programs.
The OIE is aware and trying to address the obvious obstacles that complicate students successfully feeling integrated and included in programs abroad—for example, how to help white students adjust in a predominantly black community or country, or offer solutions to the problems posed to a “tall average looking American in a country such as Japan.” Both students would stand out in the crowd. Even though the OIE has concerns over the possibility of a systemic problem which underlies the lack of participation of students of color and low-income students on account of such fears, Nardozzi and her office choose to focus on what they can do to help better prepare students of all backgrounds for their experience abroad by offering a platform for students to “think about these shocks.”
“Students who have had to thinking about race on campus, will have to do so abroad,” Nardozzi said. This is a soft way of acknowledging the profound cleavages in the perception of otherness in different countries, where ethnicity, race and culture mean and interact differently than how the average American student might have been used to. However, she has faith in the “wokeness of students at Harvard, as she playfully puts it, in recognizing these challenges and not giving in to FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out on Harvard.
Nardozzi maintains mentions that the Office’s biggest concern lays with students’ security. Alongside efforts to help diversify study abroad applicants, the OIE has also begun a new affiliation (dating back to August) with International SOS in order to provide care and urgent help for Harvard affiliates abroad.
Deploring the poor attendance of “reentry events” nationwide as follow-up experiences to the study abroad programming, Nardozzi emphasizes the OIE’s efforts to have students who have studied abroad connect with prospective participants in the programs. Some notable instances study abroad programs changing students’ courses at Harvard include: a student currently on an International fellowship instead of following the “consulting track”, and a one-year fellowship turned into a career in working for study abroad programs in another country. On student’s witty comeback shows the poignant personal significance of study abroad experiences: replying to a message from her friends, who were boasting about what an incredible experience at YardFest she was missing out on, the student sent a picture of the Coliseum of Rome with the caption: “Now look what you’re missing out on!”
“Not to be too Dean Khurana,” Nardozzi says, she still feels like the whole study abroad experience is truly transformative and criticizes the residential system of Harvard, saying blocking groups impede students’ decisions to study abroad. These groups incite questions of belonging which entangle the mind with uncertainty and prevent students from feeling comfortable in stepping out of the “Harvard wheel” of extracurricular activities, professional opportunities, and social gatherings. She ends by arguing that college students should reverse FOMO, and rather than fear missing out on Harvard, fear missing out on the World.
Ana Luiza Nicolae (firstname.lastname@example.org) is pondering which study abroad program might be most beneficial for her.