Low-resource students, many of whom are also students of color, are not adequately prepared for their roles as global citizens. The focus on reducing the achievement gap in recent years has often led to a narrowing of school curricula. Teaching “to the test” has become the primary focus at the expense of course content with an international focus. Moreover, many low resource students face an important opportunity gap: a lack access to enriching international opportunities that can prepare them for global roles. International travel opportunities are an ideal venue for developing the foreign-language, intercultural -communication and leadership skills needed to compete in the 21st century.
A 2008 American Field Service study of returnees from international travel programs in the 1980s found that, 20-25 years later, participants were more likely to speak a 2nd language, have friends from other cultures, achieve a higher level of education, and encourage their own children to interact with other cultures. Unfortunately, recent census data show that income disparities inhibit participation in these programs, and ultimately the ability to benefit from these gains. In 2007, African American and Hispanic households had the lowest median incomes ($33,916 and $38,679) compared to Caucasians ($54,920). Meanwhile, student travel programs cost upwards of $6,000, making them prohibitively expensive. Indeed according to a 2009 Open Doors study, only 10% of the 262,416 US students who studied abroad in 2007-8 identified as African American or Hispanic.
Many factors hinder participation in such programs beyond lack of access to information and financial resources, students may not have passports, may be unable to envision the benefits of travel, or may lack an informed support network throughout the application process.
The Wandering Scholar makes international travel opportunities accessible to low resource high school students. It recognizes the multiple factors that keep low-resource students from participating in international travel programs and specifically targets each one. It creates a social network platform for participants to share their travel experiences at every stage, with fellow scholars and the community at large. The program is holistic in its approach: beyond fully funding trips with student travel organizations, the program provides pre-trip preparation for both students and their families and guidance throughout all stages of the program from experienced travelers who volunteer as mentors. Upon return, the scholars share their experiences with their community, and interact, in person and via social media, with an alumni network of fellow scholars.
“No matter how many pictures we could have taken, no matter how high the resolution, no camera could have accurately captured the breathtaking, luminous elegance of the beach sunset. This journey has stripped me of my predictable, surface humanitarian tendencies and aroused my inner global citizen. Now…how’s THAT for culture shock?”— Precious Ekeanyanwu, Costa Rica