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Reasons to Study Abroad

For Native American Students

With the globalization of our world, the number of Native American students studying abroad is on the rise. Study abroad provides the perfect opportunity to learn about another culture, and while it might seem slightly paradoxical, many find that studying and living in another country also helps them to keep their own culture and individuality alive. Understanding other cultures will help shed a new light on your own and will help you to understand how your culture interlaces with the entire world.

3When it comes to the issues you may face as a Native American, it is important to understand that you are not alone. The UN has recently acknowledged the need to support native cultures around the world. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues states that "Despite their cultural differences, the various groups of indigenous peoples around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples." By coming together these cultures are giving each other strength and support for their individuality.

Studying abroad is just the beginning, but it is an important step to expanding your horizons. Whether you decide on Paris or Pretoria, Nepal or New Zealand, Brasilia or Berlin, there are countless reasons why you should participate in a study abroad program.

Study abroad programs that specifically focus on interactions with indigenous cultures around the world are starting emerge. You can have a cross cultural experience with native tribes of Australia, or come to know the peoples who are native to Central America or even East Asia. Most countries have a First People, and each group is distinctly unique to their area. You can learn about their customs and traditions while sharing your own. See how these cultures are different or surprisingly similar to your own.

Find out how they have been able to interact with the settlement of incoming cultures. You may discover invaluable insights from those who have experienced a similar history. You may also find that you share some of the same ideals or the same challenges and that you can learn from one another. Finding common ground can only make you stronger and more equipped to fulfill your future ambitions.

Native Americans may find they are faced with unique challenges as they travel abroad. Many countries around the world may only have had experience with Native Americans through movies, television, historical text or popular novels. You may find that you stand out or are the subject of curiosity. Try not to be offended, but instead use this as a unique opportunity to educate others about who you are as a person, a tribe, a nation, and an American. You can illustrate your own experiences in the United States in comparison to what others see and hear.

You may face challenges in a country with an established indigenous group. You might find yourself burdened with similar stereotypes that the indigenous group is faced with, or you may find that the complete opposite is true. You could be viewed as purely an American and an outsider to that group. Either way, this is an opportunity for you to break down any negative presuppositions and to show others who you really are. This is your chance to be an individual as well as a representative of your culture, and to encourage positive understanding of global diversity.

A number of Native Americans were strongly shaped by their international experiences, including:

  • Cory Witherill, full blooded Navajo, was the first person to be a four-time champion at the Motocross Valvoline de Montreal.
  • Maria Tallchief, half Osage, was the Prima Ballerina of the 1940’s and 50’s. She danced for the Paris Opera and all over Europe, and was even declared "Woman of the Year" in 1953 by President Eisenhower.
  • Jerry Elliot High Eagle, Cherokee and Osage, is a NASA physicist who helped launch the first man on the moon and bring Apollo 13 safely home. He designed the First International Site for Peace, Ecuador in 1986.
  • Ben Nighthorse Campbell, half Northern Cheyenne, was the only Native American U.S. Senator in over 60 years, 1992-2005. He studied as an exchange student at Meiji University in Tokyo. He stated that "stated that, "We need to create a forum for redemption, tolerance, sensitivity."
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