Study abroad program reflects on students’ identities

A student created program to encourage cultural immersion among minority groups.

Ewan Johnson explains his Culture and Identity Envoy program in the study abroad office in Tuttleman Hall on Aug. 19, 2019. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As an American studying abroad at Temple Rome in fall 2017, Ewan Johnson did not expect to be mistaken for a refugee, but while interning at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center it happened more than once. 

“I was extremely racialized before I went abroad, and then I went abroad, and was able to see race from a different context,“ he said. 

Johnson attributed his race as the main reason for this assumption because he himself saw no visual difference between him and the displaced persons he met while working at the center.

Since returning to Philadelphia, Johnson has established the Culture and Identity Envoy Program with Temple Rome and Temple Education Abroad that will pilot this semester. The program encourages students from marginalized identities to reflect on their experiences while studying in a new culture. Four students will participate in cultural immersion experiences and group discussions, while writing blog posts shared on Education Abroad’s website.

The proposal for the Culture and Identity Envoy Program aims to increase diverse student representation abroad.

Johnson said that while studying abroad, he felt that many students weren’t actively reflecting on their experiences. 

“When you think of Italy, people say things like, ‘gelato’ and ‘I enjoyed the pizza,’” he said. “But what other experiences do you have? What interpersonal connections are you making while you’re abroad? That’s kind of the basis of the program.”

Students in the program received $800 for attending culture-focused immersion trips in Rome, completing monthly group discussion and blog posts, producing a final video and participating in a panel at the end of their semester abroad.

Temple and non-Temple students studying at Temple Rome can participate. This semesters’ participants will be announced in September.

Sara Sequin, associate director of education abroad and overseas campuses, said that some students of color have found Italy’s cultural climate to be challenging and have faced “unwanted and discriminatory comments.” 

Ashley Abraham, an accountancy graduate student and 2019 political science alumna, studied at Temple Rome in fall 2017. 

It was her first time traveling to Europe, and she recalled being the only person of color in her travel group and being subjected to TSA pat-downs unlike her peers.

“It kind of felt hard when that would happen,” Abraham said. “[My peers] could sympathize with me but they couldn’t really empathize with what I was going through.”

As a first-generation immigrant and woman of color, Abraham added that programs like Johnson’s are important to encourage more students of color to go abroad.

“It can serve a dual purpose in bringing to light the challenges students may face, while at the same time showing how … they’ve navigated the experiences, and what resources are available to students,” Sequin said. She added she is excited about the program as a student-led initiative.

Benedicta Djumpah, a student life assistant at Temple Rome, expressed her hopes for the study-abroad population to reflect Main Campus’ diversity through this program.

Johnson, who identifies as a Black person with a disability, hopes that the program acts as an example of “lived experiences” for students from marginalized communities to look to when considering studying abroad. 

“You need to come up with creative solutions to make sure that the experience abroad is as inclusive and aware as possible so that you don’t have people that come back home and say, ‘Oh, I never want to go out and experience the world again,’” he added.

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