Tips for travel: international mobility for disadvantaged students

Tips for travel: international mobility for disadvantaged students

In recognition of the aspirations of disadvantaged college students for international mobility, many institutions strive to organise field schools, offering an opportunity to engage with foreign cultures and communities. The Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute created an opportunity for 11 students to travel to Honduras. For some, it was their first time leaving home; for all of them it was a transformative experience. The tips offered in this article may help you create similar opportunities.

At 05:30 on a Monday morning in May 2010, 11 disadvantaged students, ranging in age from 20–60 and all working on two-year Associate degrees, arrived at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina (NC) in the south-eastern United States, to board a flight to Houston, Texas. From Houston, they boarded a second flight to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for an eight-night stay in the poorest of Central American countries.

These 11 students constituted the inaugural TRIO Study + Service Tour  to Honduras, sponsored by the TRIO programmes of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) in Hudson, NC.

The students were participants in the federally-funded TRIO/Student Support Services (TRIO/SSS) programme, which I direct, at CCC&TI. Ten of the 11 were first-generation college students, defined as neither of their parents holding a Bachelor degree or four-year college degree. Seven were low-income students. One was a student with disabilities. Eight had never before secured passports. Four had never travelled by air. Two had never stepped inside an airport. Two harboured an intense fear of flying. One student had never before seen an ocean, and the flight from Houston to Tegucigalpa over the Caribbean Sea offered her the first glimpse of the Atlantic.

All 11 were adventuresome, inquisitive, respectful of other cultures, and superb team players. They also were highly motivated not only to travel abroad to learn about Honduras, but also to serve community members by helping them to build homes for their families.

The best way to understand who our TRIO/SSS travellers were and what they learned through the TRIO Study + Service Tour is to visit the TRIO CCCTI Honduras website. Students’ voices are captured and their reflections on what they were experiencing in-country are presented through the “Theater” tab. The “Photos” tabs present numerous images from the TRIO Study + Service Tour.

Here are five tips that ensured success of the TRIO Study + Service Tour and that could be helpful to you, whether you’re based at an institution in Europe or elsewhere, in inviting your disadvantaged students to explore and engage with the globe.

1. Know your students

The TRIO/SSS programme provides intensive support services to students, in accordance with each student’s individual needs. While not all 200 TRIO/SSS students whom we serve annually have global travel aspirations, individual students often ask me about travelling abroad and regularly seek my guidance on how to make that happen. These students’ pointed requests and my own background in, and commitment to, global study and work led to the TRIO Study + Service Tour.

For any global travel to be possible for TRIO/SSS students, a long lead time is essential. In July 2009, I posted on my office door a sheet on which students wrote their names if they were interested in considering travel to Honduras in May 2010. The long lead time provided students the opportunity to save the necessary travel funds over a period of months. It also gave students many opportunities to express their concerns and hopes for their experience. In some cases, students wanted to talk with me individually, in private. In other cases, students wanted to talk with each other about their expectations and concerns. Some students spoke not only of their own fears of participating in the travel, but also of their children’s fears at the prospect of being at home with their parents overseas. The 30-something daughter of the 60-year-old student was as concerned about her mother’s travel as were the 6–14-year-old children of other students.

2. Leverage your students’ interests and experience. Honour their constraints

Financial constraints made travel to Central America, with lower airfares than to Europe, a more attractive option for the inaugural tour. In CCC&TI’s TRIO programmes, students are accustomed to having written expectations for travel and are accustomed to upholding those expectations. We communicated the expectations for the TRIO Study + Service Tour, which included the dates when applications, passports, and payments were due. TRIO/SSS students are accustomed to working in teams to envision and lead service activities. Their experience with serving in the community made service to the people of Honduras an important part of the TRIO Study + Service Tour. TRIO’s focus on post-secondary studies made it important to walk through a university campus in Honduras. Students’ limited or non-existent experience in another country prompted me to explore a meeting for our students at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa in order for them to experience how the U.S. government is represented overseas.

Because the trip to Honduras was the first time leaving the U.S. for most of the 11 students, it carried extra learning opportunities through applying for and securing U.S. passports, securing needed immunisations, and budgeting for all of it. Our staff provided support services, such as making appointments for immunisations and providing transportation to the health department, continuing reminders of due dates, and regular meetings of the travellers in order for them to become better acquainted with each other and with the planned tour.

3. Build partnerships with trusted organisations

Fluent in Spanish, I was invited in 2008 to lead a group of NC educators to Honduras on a study tour organised by the Honduras-based team of Heifer International. In envisioning the TRIO Study + Service Tour, I leveraged the 2008 experience and approached the Heifer Honduras professionals about a partnership to open a global experience to our TRIO/SSS students. Tim and Gloria Wheeler, dedicated Heifer staff in Honduras, responded graciously and enthusiastically and accommodated my requests for adding a service component, a university campus tour, and a visit at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

In any global exploration, students’ safety is paramount. Partnering with a trusted organisation and on-the-ground professionals with whom I had already worked allowed my CCC&TI team and me to focus on our TRIO/SSS students and on their questions and joys that surfaced on a daily basis. Through the partnership with Heifer, our team carried no direct responsibility for the tremendously complex logistics that accompany negotiating travel through a distant country’s urban and rural areas. Rather, our role with logistical matters was to support our Heifer hosts.

4. Build for replication

When envisioning the TRIO Study + Service Tour, we planned not for a one-time experience, but rather for replication beyond 2010. Our institutional team comprised two instructors (Truck Driving and Spanish), one TRIO/SSS staff member, and me. Because of my doctoral studies, I knew at the outset that I would not be available to lead the group back to Honduras in 2011. For me, engaging the Spanish instructor in the inaugural tour was essential, in order for this Spanish-speaker to gain in-country experience leading our TRIO/SSS students. My three CCC&TI colleagues led the return trip to Honduras with the 2011 TRIO Study + Service Tour.

In 2011, the trip was run in conjunction with a Humanities course on Latin American culture, which the Spanish instructor and I co-taught in the spring semester. Misty Auton, a TRIO/SSS student who travelled in 2010, chose to return in 2011. Auton describes her global exposure through CCC&TI’s TRIO programmes in her article on pages 4–6 in the TRIO Alumni newsletter.

5. Build for continuing impact

The central purpose of the TRIO Study + Service Tour was to fulfil the aspirations of disadvantaged college students for global exposure. This purpose was achieved, and the global experiences carry lifelong impact for these 11 students. In addition, their global experiences constitute powerful assets that are leveraged today for inspiring other disadvantaged students towards global engagement. For the inaugural TRIO Study + Service Tour, I engaged NC film-maker and educator Gerald Waller to travel with our group and to capture on film our students’ voices and reflections on their experiences.

While celebrating the success of the 2010 inaugural tour, the TRIO CCCTI Honduras website that Waller built continues to resonate with current TRIO/SSS students. By viewing the videos and exploring the photographs from 2010, our TRIO/SSS students in 2015 re-live the experiences of their peers, add their own insights in the reflective essays that our TRIO/SSS programme requires of new students, and ponder their own future forays across the globe.

As you employ and discover other travel tips, please pass them along, so that our TRIO/SSS students will benefit from your experience!

Federal TRIO programmes funded by the U.S. government through Congressional appropriations, TRIO is a 50-year-old basket of programmes that support disadvantaged students in accessing and completing post-secondary studies. Most participants in TRIO programmes are first-generation college (defined as neither parent holding a Bachelor, or four-year college degree) and low-income. The TRIO/SSS programme also serves students with disabilities.

Beyond the TRIO CCC&TI Honduras website, visit additional websites created by Gerald Waller.

Alice Lentz is the Director of TRIO Programs at Caldwell Community College, United States.

The spring issue of the EAIE member magazine Forum explores equity in access to international higher education. If you are an EAIE member, you can download a digital copy from the EAIE Member Centre and your very own hard copy of Forum will be arriving shortly. Non-EAIE members can sign up now for a 2015 membership and get access to past copies of Forum magazine online, as well as other EAIE publications