The experience of studying in a new country can seem out of reach for students who are first in their families to attend college. Expense and other hurdles may look like they outweigh the benefits. First-Gen Abroad at Washington State University removes those barriers.
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, 16 students traveled to Rome, Italy, and 19 to Seville, Spain, last May, making that total cohort the biggest since First-Gen Abroad began in 2015.
“Coming out of the pandemic, I’m so excited that we were able to achieve two First-Gen Abroad programs,” says Angie Klimko, the director of First at WSU, which supports first-generation students. “We’re ready to continue providing a valuable international experience that sets our students apart.”
First-Gen Abroad starts before students even leave the United States, with a one-credit class that covers key information such as what to expect in their host country, cultural values and bias, how to get a passport, and what to pack. Two advisors lead the course and travel with the students to ensure they have a safe, positive experience.
Students take classes in their host city, rooted in that city’s history and culture. On the Rome trip, for example, they participate in a “walking classroom,” where they visit the art and architecture they are studying. The courses count toward the students’ degree requirements, Klimko (’01 Psych., ’03 MA Comm.) says, so studying abroad doesn’t add additional time to a student’s degree completion, which can be a major concern for first-gen students.
First-gen students face concerns about and barriers to studying abroad that other students may not—particularly financial barriers, Klimko says. She works with students individually on financial aid and payment options and helps raise funds to support students in the program. Last year, Gary Schneidmiller (’71 Busi., ’73 MA Ag. Econ.) and Chris Navan (’13 Intl. Busi., ’14 MBA) donated to help offset the the program and associated travel costs. Navan says his own experience as a first-gen student studying abroad motivated him to contribute.
“There’s a lot of growth and camaraderie that comes from studying abroad,” he says. “If I can give to someone from a similar background as me who may have decided not to go abroad because of limited financial opportunities, this is a good way for me to contribute that opportunity to someone in this program.”
Klimko says some students think study abroad isn’t in the cards for them because of financial barriers, fear of the unknown, and not knowing where to begin. “But it changes their lives, and the impact only increases from there. One student going abroad can influence generations to come.”
It made a world of difference to WSU students Tanya Rivera and Maritay Mendoza-Quiroz last summer. They shared the experience, in their own words, with Washington State Magazine.
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
Growing up, my parents would surprise my sisters and me on random weekends and take us on trips. Whether that was visiting Seattle or the Oregon Zoo, or driving to other cities in Washington, I loved getting out and seeing new places.
Hearing that there was an opportunity to go abroad to Seville, Spain, through First-Gen Abroad had me convinced. I knew right away I wanted to learn about a different culture, travel outside of the country, and visit places I have always dreamed of, like Barcelona and Madrid.
The people, the food, the culture was such a unique experience, and I am forever thankful to have had the opportunity. I had to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I truly believe I came back a better person from studying abroad. I learned how to be culturally competent, changed my perspective on the world, and discovered more about myself and what I am capable of.
While it was hard to enjoy myself at times because my own family was back in the United States working, I have never felt more supported through a program. There was such a unique bond through the cohort because of the feelings we were sharing and realizing that our background did not have to limit our goals. Being able to bring textbook pictures to life, visit the architecture, and learn from the locals was an adventure of a lifetime. Looking back, I am glad I drank from the weird fountain on the street, ate paella, conversed with the locals, and bought every souvenir possible, because when was I going to do that again?
Although I got food poisoning, lost my passport, had to budget, and so much more, I would do this experience again in a heartbeat. I believe this program truly enhances a student’s undergraduate experience. This first-gen Latina from a farmworking background was able to complete her childhood dream.
While looking through the plane window, everything was feeling surreal. I was traveling to Spain! I was going to spend seven weeks of my college life in Europe, doing the first-generation study abroad program!
“¡¡Miren llegue a las Europas!!” was the first thing I said to my family when I arrived in Spain. Who would imagine me, traveling abroad? Sounds crazy.
My time in Seville, Spain, was memorable. I was able to meet amazing individuals, take classes, and explore the city. Seville has so much history and meaning in every corner. In Spain, everything is special, from the tapas bars to the beautiful architecture. In Seville, everything feels different. It’s literally another world. Walking to class was the best—I was able to enjoy the city and my own company. l listened to my own thoughts, and I allowed myself to feel and learn.
Studying abroad helped me to see life and the world from a different perspective. I gained knowledge from other cultures, people, places. I learned so much about myself, about self-awareness, and about personal change. I explored new cities and traveled to other countries too. I made it to Portugal, France, and the United Kingdom. Simply amazing!
As a Mexican immigrant, first-generation, and low-income student, I never imagined I would be studying abroad. This is the first summer since I arrived in the States five years ago that I didn’t work in the fields because I had the opportunity to be in Spain. I never imagined being on another continent. From selling oranges when I was a little girl in Mexico, to working in the fields since I arrived in the States, to now traveling to Spain, I did it! Now I see my own growth as a person because this study abroad program gave me a different perspective on life. Now, I won’t give up! Y me pondre las pilas!
“From Montana to Spain: First-Gen Abroad Program Preps Kole Lappe for International Travel” (Carson College of Business, Dividend, December 1, 2022)