Comfortable being uncomfortable : the study abroad experiences of Black and Latino/a students
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Research has found that study abroad experiences positively influence undergraduate baccalaureate degree attainment, career goals, and self-awareness (Gonyea, 2008). However, scholars agree there are still gaps in study abroad literature, specifically pertaining to students of color, alumni, and short-term study abroad programs (Chang, 2015; Miller-Perrin & Thompson, 2014; Norris & Gillepsie, 2009). Guided by Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning, this study aimed to understand Black and Latinx students’ perceptions of the benefits of their study abroad experiences. This study adds to the current body of literature by employing a phenomenological approach to assess the study abroad experiences of seven undergraduate students and eight alumni, all of whom identified as Black or Latinx, and participated in a short-term study abroad experience sponsored by the Southwest University (SU). Participants described how their experience of “learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable” in a foreign country influenced their personal, social, and professional lives. The study’s findings were presented via five large themes: (1) individual awareness, (2) my friends, family, and community, (3) career development, (4) who you study abroad with matters, and (5) program design. Fifteen subthemes emerged from the larger themes: (1) Awakening American identity, (2) ethnic identity empowerment, (3) self-assurance, (4) family change of perspective, (5) social responsibility, (6) career clarification, (7) career interviews and application navigation, (8) making connections, (9) transferable skills, (10) comfortability, (11) intragroup diversity, (12) faculty/staff support, (13) study abroad preparation, (14) host destination, and (15) experiential learning.