For first-generation, low-income, and/or minority students, the barriers to travel can be prohibitive. Judon-Monk, DHSc, has removed many of them.
Assistant Professor and Academic Program Coordinator, Public Health and Exercise Science,Saint Augustine’s University, Raleigh, NC
DHSc, Master’s in Public Health, BS in Biology
“Work locally but teach globally” is the motto of Selena Judon-Monk, DHSc, an assistant professor of public health at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a champion of learning globally, as well. In fact, one of the key learning objectives for her Global Health course is to facilitate and support student interest in international, health-related service learning. “For students to really understand what we discuss in class, they must have that global experience,” she says.
For Judon-Monk, encouraging students to study abroad is more than just a way to broaden their perspectives on their coursework and lives; it is an issue of social justice. “We are one of the oldest historically black colleges and universities in the nation,” she explains. “The majority of our students are African American and have not been extended study abroad opportunities. There’s a huge disparity.” Indeed, according to the 2018 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange, the most recent available data shows that only about 6% of US students studying abroad are black or African American.
Judon-Monk wanted to know why.
She soon realized that many students—especially those who were first-generation college students and/or from low-income backgrounds—had the impression that study abroad was financially impossible for them. Because she feels strongly that an out-of-country experience is vital to expanding students’ academic, professional, and personal horizons, Judon-Monk set out to change this mindset. The results have been out of this world.
“Global knowledge, skills, and attitudes beyond the workplace are needed to successfully navigate the ever-changing, culturally diverse world. So we cultivate scholars who are prepared to operate in a global community.”
-Selena Judon-Monk, DHSc
Course: PHS 300 Global Health
Course description: Course explores health and disease in global terms, considering the many overlapping issues associated with variations in the health and disease of individuals and communities.
7 ways to put study abroad within more students’ reach
Judon-Monk takes a multipronged approach to increase the number of students at Saint Augustine’s University who participate in study abroad. She leverages internal and external partners to increase the number and types of opportunities available. To pique interest, she brings international learning experiences to campus, and she provides robust support for students navigating the process, from securing financial aid to filling out passport applications and more. Here are some of her best practices.
1. Start with on-campus resources for study abroad
Judon-Monk recommends that educators first investigate and connect with internal partners. These include on-campus resources as well as other faculty members who are focused on increasing student access to studying abroad. “We have an International Programs office and they have a library full of resources on study abroad,” she says. “Students can work with the director to find and access programs of interest.”
2. Investigate multiple sources of financial support
“Airfare, tuition, boarding, and spending money are huge concerns for students. We have to increase student awareness that financial aid money can be used for study abroad,” she says. So she encourages students to work with their financial aid counselor to navigate the process. She also suggests that they apply for scholarships that cover airfare and other travel costs. “Students don’t realize that some of the applications are very simple and don’t even require an essay,” explains Judon-Monk.
Finally, she encourages students to create a GoFundMe page and reach out to former teachers, church members, and other connections to crowdsource travel funding.
3. Explore resources from other universities
SAU is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, as is a university in Haiti: Bishop Tharp Institute. “We completed a service-learning project there, where students not only learned more about the Haitian culture, which was closely tied to the theme of the course they were enrolled in, but also increased their language learning,” says Judon-Monk.
SAU has also worked with NC State University, which has a Confucius Institute. “We were able to partner with [NC State] and have a ‘Confucius Classroom’ on the SAU campus, which [increased] awareness of Chinese culture and helped develop students’ language skills in Mandarin. Other universities might have similar ties that faculty can maximize to bring these kinds of opportunities to students,” says Judon-Monk.
4. Share personal travel experiences (and photos!)
Judon-Monk finds that stories about international travel can ignite student interest—which is an essential first step in getting them to sign up for an information session. In addition to sharing her own tales and photos, Judon-Monk invites guest speakers to discuss the Peace Corps and study abroad programs such as Barcelona Study Abroad Experience, Diversity Abroad, and GOAT Volunteers.
5. Understand and ease students’ travel fears
“We have found that students have misconceptions about travel in general,” says Judon-Monk. “Some students have never even been on an airplane.” To help assuage hesitations about international travel, she works to develop rapport with students and gain their trust throughout the semester. She also seeks group opportunities that are shorter in duration (about two weeks) and closer to home, which are more appealing to first-time travelers. Finally, she ensures that they have support while away from home.
“Our students want to travel as a group,” says Judon-Monk, who often travels with them. “They are not ready to go abroad independently, and in terms of safety, our university supports a faculty member going with students. We can participate in programs that have been vetted and will give a high-quality academic and cultural experience.”
6. Demystify the passport process
One of the biggest obstacles Judon-Monk has faced in garnering interest in foreign study has been a purely practical one: Students often do not have passports and do not know how to apply for one. As the process can be confusing and time-consuming, she realized that students needed some help getting started and working through it, so she created a “Passport Assignment” (see sidebar).
This approach works and can even have a ripple effect, Judon-Monk notes. “After participating in my Global Health course, one student obtained her passport after learning about the benefits of having one, especially to study abroad. She also encouraged her boyfriend to get his passport, and he did.”
Normally, students use their own personal funds to obtain passports, but Judon-Monk is trying to ease this expense. “Recently, I formed a partnership with the cofounder of Passport University (@passport_univ), a local organization that provides scholarships and gives support to underrepresented students in study abroad to secure passports as well as sponsor travel opportunities for them. I am really excited about this new partnership to assist more students in overcoming one of the barriers to engaging in learning abroad,” she says.
7. Invite them to participate in the planning
This year, Judon-Monk began offering students the opportunity to shape the study abroad experience and bring it to life. “I am having the students come up with ideas for service learning—what they want the experience to look like, the structure of it, what they want to get out of it, even what kind of assessment they think would suit the project,” she says. This increased sense of ownership also translates into lessened anxiety, she adds.
Judon-Monk has found that not only do more students study abroad but they return from their experiences with a newfound passion for travel. “Once they get that passport stamped, they want to know where they can go next!” she says. “It really motivates them and opens them up to exploring more global opportunities.”
She finds that there is a snowball effect, too. Some students who have traveled with Judon-Monk recently joined students from more than 20 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to attend the U.S. Department of State’s 10th annual HBCU Foreign Policy Conference, where they heard from State Department employees about what international diplomacy looks like in action. “This increased students’ awareness of the career and internship opportunities related to international travel or global issues,” Judon-Monk says. “After studying abroad, students’ worlds literally open up.”