Education experts say that as the world becomes more interconnected, more college students should take advantage of study-abroad programs.
The problem is only an estimated 10 percent of students take advantage of those opportunities.
Even more troublesome is that some colleges offer few, if any, overseas study options. Harris-Stowe State University is one of those schools.
But on Friday, the school begins the process of improving the options.
Early in the morning, two Harris-Stowe juniors — Darius Terrell and Zackary Davis — will board a flight that will take them from St. Louis to Dallas to Beijing and finally to Ningbo in the eastern part of China where they will stay for the next several months taking business classes and studying Mandarin.
Terrell and Davis are the first Harris-Stowe students to participate in any long-term study abroad programs.
For Terrell, 22, it will be only the third trip he’s taken by airplane.
“I’ve never been more nervous and I’ve never been more excited,” he said. “But I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. If you get a chance, why not do something extraordinary?”
Both students are going as part of a push by the administration of President Barack Obama to increase the number of college students experiencing overseas education.
Of the small number of students who participate in study abroad programs, minorities make up the smallest slice.
Beginning in 2014, the White House started bringing together more than 40 historically black colleges and universities to partner with different Chinese universities to establish the HBCU-China Scholarship program.
It calls for the schools to collaborate in creating thousands of scholarships to ease the way for minority students to study abroad.
Fara Zakery, dean of Harris-Stowe’s business school, led the university’s efforts. Last summer, she along with other Harris-Stowe administrators and students took an exploratory trip to China to sight-see and work out the details.
It resulted in a five-year agreement between Harris-Stowe and Ningbo University, where four students — two women and two men — will travel to China each year for their choice of either a semester-long or year-long study abroad experience.
Terrell and Davis are the only two students going this year. The full complement of four students will begin making the trip starting in the fall.
Each student will get a full ride, including room and board, tuition, airfare and insurance. Students are responsible for only their passports and visas.
“Chinese universities have international students every year, but hardly any African-Americans,” Zakery said. “This is a chance for our students to see another part of the world and learn a different culture and learn to start thinking globally.”
For Terrell, an accounting major, it will be his second trip to China. He was on the 2015 exploratory trip with Harris-Stowe administrators.
For Davis, 22, a finance major, it will be his first time traveling out of the country.
“I knew it was going to happen at some point, I just didn’t know when,” he said.
The two are scheduled to arrive Saturday in Ningbo about 10:30 p.m. Chinese time. They will be met by an English-speaking representative from the university, who will take them from the airport to their dorm where they will share a suite.
On Monday, they will meet with Ningbo University’s director of admissions, go to orientation and then start their classes. All courses, with the exception of their Mandarin lessons, will be taught in English.
They will be among about 500 international students studying at the university.
For both Terrell and Davis, the next four months will represent a significant leap out of their respective comfort zones.
Terrell learned how to say “hello,” “thank you” and “goodbye” in Mandarin during last summer’s trip. Davis knows how to say only “hello.”
Zakery, the business school dean, said she expected both students to be different people when they come back this summer.
“We saw how that two weeks in China did magic for our students last year,” she said. “Imagine four months. Imagine how much they are going to grow personally and professionally. This is the best professional development opportunity they could have because they have to live in it. This is going to get rid of any limitations they have in their thinking.”
Zakery said she would be at the airport early Friday to see her students off. “Just to be there and get in some last-minute support,” she said.