Jayla’s take on the Diversity Abroad Conference

Hi everyone! My name is Jayla Stevenson and I am a Senior at Wellesley College studying Philosophy and Africana Studies. In the Fall of 2017 I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Athens, Greece with College Year in Athens. The following summer I returned to Greece for a summer course with CYA entitled “Philosophy and Film.” I currently represent the program as an ambassador working with my study abroad office to prepare and encourage students to study abroad. These opportunities have afforded me life-long friendships and connections.
CYA recently sponsored my attendance at the Diversity Abroad Conference in Boston, MA where I was further motivated to think about my study abroad experience and career trajectory. The event was part of the 5th annual Global Leadership Summit (GSLS): the premiere conference for students from diverse backgrounds who have participated in study abroad programs. This conference, intended to develop skills as it relates to being a global citizen and preparing students to delve deeper into identity formation abroad, exceeded my expectations. It took place over a short weekend and during that time I was introduced to potential life-long partnerships and students who are committed to bettering our world through activism.

Group Sessions & Workshops

We hit the ground running with the start of the program as we discussed the intersections of our identities, what it means to advocate for others, and how to build inclusive environments. We began by setting our own expectations and community guidelines that were inclusive and this set the tone for an amazing weekend. The summit provided a safe space for students, including myself, to hold critical conversations on our experiences abroad. The various group sessions, such as one session titled “Critical Conversations on Personal Identity in Education Abroad Pt. 1,” allowed me to open up to others about my experience as a Black woman studying abroad in Athens, Greece. Through these sessions, I was challenged to reflect on my experience abroad in ways that I had not before with interactive group workshops and personal worksheets. These activities pushed me to map out my multiple identities and visualize how they impact the spaces I am in while also introducing new terminology.
I also realized the ways in which the spaces I flourish in are not inclusive to others who do not share my identity and the ways in which I am privileged in such spaces. For example, we learned that many cities abroad are not wheel-chair accessible and met students and professionals who are working to advocate for accessible campuses abroad. We also learned how the students themselves make the activities conducted in study abroad programs accessible to people with varying disabilities. The amazing keynote speakers and workshop leaders provided us with real-world tools to navigate such situations and provided us with tips and resources to advocate for others who may not be able to do so themselves.
Other workshops taught us how to leverage our experiences in the professional world. Continuing with group workshops, we listed our skills and shared with another about our experiences returning from abroad and holding leadership positions as it related to our study abroad experience on campus. As a CYA ambassador, I shared my own experiences hosting study abroad panels and my commitment to sharing my abroad experience with prospective students.

Networking Speed Dating

Next, we participated in a networking speed dating event. Though anxious about meeting professionals and completely embarrassing myself, the global leadership summit paired us with other students and together we speed-dated with professionals who work in global leadership such as study abroad offices. In my free time, I ate lunch with students from across the U.S. and we later attended the awards gala and innovation competition: my favorite part of the summit.

Innovation Competition

During the Innovation competition, I watched fellow students and professionals in the study broad field pitch their ideas for inclusive study abroad programs and/or organizations in 3 minutes for a chance to win funding. This competition showcased the amazing talent and transformative programs being conducted across the globe that provides access to study abroad to diverse and under-represented students.

Dinner & The Bachata

We later gathered for dinner at the conference’s beautiful awards gala that awarded professionals and students for their work in advancing diversity abroad. Later, my global leadership student cohort went out to a Havana Club in Boston where we danced the Bachata and celebrated a fellow student’s birthday. In that short weekend, I cultivated relationships with students who will change the very idea of what it means to study abroad, ate amazing food, and met professionals who are advocating for the kind of change we want to see abroad and locally.

Written by Tina Voulgari