I am an undergraduate researcher and fourth year student in History and Latin American & Caribbean studies at the University of Kansas. I'm a Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) Fellow, Young People For Fellow, a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, KU Multicultural Scholar, a KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean's Student Advisory Board member, and on the KU Brazilian Student Association exec board. I am first-generation: the first to go to a four year college in my immediate family, and the first-born child of West African immigrants.
For five months (January 1st to June 1st, 2014), I plan to study abroad in Brazil. I will be living in Salvador, Bahia, a city well-regarded for its rich history, vibrant local culture and African heritage. I will be going through CIEE Study Abroad (my university currently does not have a semester program for Brazil), and will study at Universidade Federal da Bahia and Universidade Católica do Salvador. Not only will I be studying Portuguese language and Brazilian culture, but I will also be conducting research on Afro-Brazilian women's organizing. It will supplement research I have already conducted on black women's organizing in the United States, specifically black feminist organizing in the 1970s. I am excited and blessed to be offered the opportunity to enhance my undergraduate studies, especially in a year Brazil will be front and center on the international stage.
However, I am experiencing some setbacks. Despite being a FLAS recipient, the FLAS award cannot cover all my expenses. My university's Office of Study Abroad was not able to give much aid to offset costs, even as they had previously advised me that the aid they could give me would be significant to my budget. As I live in a state where the governor is anxious to cut whatever he can, especially when it comes to public education, both my departments, despite being incredibly supportive, did not have the funds to assist me.
While completing my study abroad application, I applied to different funding sources, but was met with other setbacks. My university's honors program rejected my application, despite holding 4.0 GPAs in both my majors, because I had the good fortune of leaving the university after doing poorly as a freshman and coming back to do what their program mandates their students do: conduct research, pursue internships and career opportunities, and build communities through school involvement. As Portuguese is not designated as a high-need critical language by the US State Department, other federal funding sources were and continue to be unavailable to me. I have access to two private sources of funding, but if I am selected as an awardee, I will not receive my funding until after I am already abroad. Additionally, after my grandmother suddenly passed in the spring, several thousands of dollars that I had saved earlier in the year went to travel and assistance for her funeral in Ghana. While these setbacks are bothersome, with your help, they are not impossible.
What Can You Do?
You can help by pledging your support! Luckily, I have most of my expenses covered. This is where I am needing help:
- 3,750 dollars: Room and board
- 100 dollars: Required health insurance.
Pledging Perks and Rewards
What are the perks in pledging? Look below!
In addition, pledge your support and receive something back:
- 5 dollars: the url to my study abroad blog.
- 10 dollars: a personalized thank you email, digital photo, and the url to my study abroad blog.
- 15 dollars: a digital copy of a photo zine based on my travels and observations in Brazil (PDF format, will be sent out in September), and the url to my study abroad blog.
- 30 dollars: two postcards sent (in March and May) from Bahia!
- 50 dollars: Detailed, monthly e-mail updates (5 total), and one postcard from Bahia.
- 100 dollars: Skype date! Connect with me in real time and listen to my stories. Plus, a neat souvenir and a physical version of my zine.
Do you have an organization or blog? There are perks for you, too!
- 25 dollars: You can interview me for your blog or website on my experiences in Bahia.
- 50 dollars: I will provide two total blog posts on my experiences in Bahia.
- 150 dollars: Three commissioned blog posts on particular topics (race, gender, class) OR a thirty minute Skype talk on any of those topics as experienced during my travels.
- 350 - 500 dollars: Ambassador talk! I will speak to your organization (if in the Greater Kansas City area, it will be a physical appearance; and if outside KC, through Skype) about my experiences abroad, my journey as a first-gen, black female college student in the Midwest, and advice and tips on how to make the best of your time in college/the realities of college for first-gen, underrepresented groups today. This will occur after I comeback and complete my summer research (anticipated August 2014).
- 600+ dollars: You will receive all the previous perks listed, and monthly (limit five) Skype or real-time talks where I can assist prospective college students or current college students on particular issues (applying for aid, locating scholarships, building relationships with professors and staff, locating internships, building networks, dealing with mental health issues, building esteem).
If I am lucky enough to reach my goal, any additional funding will go to purchases that will help facilitate my research: a sturdy laptop and a digital camera.
It is true that your donations are assisting me in achieving my dreams, but your reach does not end with me. You are not only investing in my life, but in the lives of others: as a donor, you are making the stories of similar students more visible. Representation is important because it opens doors to newer and vibrant possibilities.
First-generation students and students of color are typically the least likely to go abroad, not only due to monetary issues, but for fear that they are not welcome. Larger visibility encourages those students to seek new opportunities because they are encouraged by seeing others like them do what they hope to do. In addition to being interested in the area, it definitely helps that I could possibly pass as a "baiana." But I am indeed a pioneer: excluding my two friends, I have never encountered other black women who went abroad at my university, and I've never seen one on any of the promotional materials. That shouldn't prevent anyone from pursuing what they want, but it is an active deterrent for many.
But my story will resonate with others because it is also their story. Your donation sends the message that young students of color, first-generation students, and non-traditional students can dream beyond themselves, and that their dreams will reach others. You are not only donating your time and money to my dreams, but you are helping to form community. You are letting others know that they are not alone, but are among friends.
My studies opened me to a community of friends, past, present, and future. In my history courses, I largely focus on African Americans in the United States during the twentieth century. This history is one of trauma, suffering, and violence. But it's also a history of triumph, success, and innovation. I affirm Khalil Gibran Muhammad's words when he noted, during a discussion with Bill Moyers, that for young people "black history is life-saving." It is life-saving because it affirms my sense of belong and compassion towards other people, in addition to myself. If I had not discovered the comprehensive depth and wealth of knowledge and inspiration it holds, I am very confident that it would have been more difficult, if not impossible, to have come back to college. Those who find their passion and develop their strengths tend to do well, as they put it to great use.
You can inspire other young people to put their passions to great use. Even if you cannot donate, please spread this link to your friends. Help build community, make a difference, and affirm the reality that dreams really do come true.
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