How would you define your international education experience?
- International Scholar
What was your international education experience like?
During my time as a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago with the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice, I traveled abroad as a visiting scholar to the University of Leeds - located about 3 hours north of London, England. It was my first time studying abroad and it was such an amazing time! Both academically and personally, I learned a lot and grew from the experience. I was 2 years into my PhD program at the time - in the beginning stages of crafting what my dissertation would be. My interests were rooted in mixed-race identity development, coupled with criminological theory, and much of that literature was coming from this particular University at the time. In reading all of that literature, I knew I had to learn more from the faculty and students who were publishing such great work. The year before I traveled abroad, I took it upon myself to reach out to the institution to see what kind of opportunities were available for me to get connected. Eventually, a faculty member invited me to study for one month over the summer and learn more about the research being done there. I was in Leeds for the month of August in 2014, living in a flat on campus, and sponsored by the School of Sociology and Social Policy. It was great to get access to their resources and connect with their faculty, which eventually helped me to craft my dissertation ideas. Upon arriving back in the states, I took my research during that time and turned it into a presentation, "The Face of Mixed-Race: From the U.S. to the U.K." which I shared at the annual meetings of ASC - American Society of Criminology and MCJA - Midwestern Criminal Justice Association that fall. My international education experience was also fascinating as a person of color, studying in a place where I did not see many people who looked like me. I identify as Black and Latina (Nicaraguan) and there were very few Black-American and Latin-American folks around. Those who were Black identified directly from Africa while the few Hispanic folks I met during weekend trips to London and Liverpool were either from Spain or transplants from Columbia. This added to my overall experience by helping me get a wider perspective on identity and how that is shaped in different countries.
What message do you have to share with students and community members about the importance of international education?
As a first-generation college student, financially, my family was not always able to fund my educational opportunities. However, I was able to find support from my grad program and the institution I was traveling to to help make this dream a reality. Even though I could only afford to study abroad for 1 month, the experience forever changed my life, and I still reflect on how great it was even though ti was 7 years ago now! Traveling internationally, on my own, personally empowered me to look beyond the communities I was connected to in my day-to-day life and truly look to get connected with others across wide distances. Since this experience, I have traveled abroad for research and conferences in places like Toronto, Canada and Berlin, Germany. I think this initial experience helped broaden my horizons when it comes to international education. My experience studying abroad also provided me great academic connections, including a faculty member at the University of Leeds who sat on my dissertation committee and helped me eventually become Dr. Thompson in 2018 when I defended my final research. I say all of this to share that the value of international education is multi-faceted and if it is something you are interested in doing, do it! Even when there may seem like barriers or it may seem a little scary to travel on your own, there are ways to bypass the barriers and have a life-changing experience that will you forever be grateful for!