Traditional study abroad has often aligned with traditional hierarchies of power: mostly white students traveling to European destinations to study among the dominant cultures of some of the world’s “greatest” colonizers. The explosive growth of internships and opportunities abroad beyond traditional disciplines in the humanities and social sciences has allowed the persistence, and perhaps acceleration, of this paradigm. Neoliberal tenets continue to value Global North ways of knowing, while cohorts of students going abroad lack the diversity universities generally prioritize in an incoming first-year class.
In light of events around the world and in the United States throughout 2020, education abroad seems to acknowledge the roles it has played in maintaining or even perpetuating an unjust status quo. As demographics and world politics shift, education abroad must shift with them and deconstruct colonialist values and tendencies through an emphasis on social justice and the critical work of social justice movements and activists in challenging hierarchies of power that perpetuate disenfranchisement. How can the lens of social justice help us challenge ourselves and our students to examine our assumptions about the people we meet and the places we go? How can it help us enable students to engage with diverse and localized communities and histories during education abroad programming and come away with more holistic knowledge of their host country, the positionality of the communities within it, and themselves?