Jumping on the Opportunity
Community college students comprise over 40 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. but account for less than two percent of undergraduates who study abroad (Community College Research Center, 2020; Open Doors, 2020). Additionally, students of color are overrepresented in the two-year sector (Ma & Baum, 2016). While study abroad participation has been examined in terms of which students study abroad (Barclay Hamir & Gozik, 2018; Salisbury et al., 2011) and students’ decision-making process (Luo & Jamieson-Drake, 2014; Stroud, 2010), much of this literature centers on four-year colleges and universities. Several studies have investigated the factors that influence study abroad participation at the community college level from both the student and institutional perspective (Amani, 2011; Amani & Kim, 2017; Raby, 2012, 2019, 2020; Whatley, 2018a). However, of the studies that examined study abroad participation factors from the student perspective, few interrogated how racial or ethnic identity shaped the students’ experiences throughout the study abroad decision-making process. With the exception of a handful of studies (e.g., Willis, 2012), little is known about the experiences of community college students of color who have studied abroad. This Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) (Smith et al., 2009) study sought to address this gap in the literature by examining how community college students of color navigate the study abroad decision-making process. Guided by Yosso’s (2005) Community Cultural Wealth framework, this study examined the experiences of eight community college students of color at a single community college in the Southwest. Two semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with each participant, and data were analyzed using the IPA data analysis process (Smith et al., 2009). The findings indicate that the students in this study activated familial, linguistic, aspirational, and social capital when navigating both the study abroad decision-making process and their time abroad. The participants’ racial and ethnic identities, as well as systemic factors, influenced their decision to study abroad in particular destinations and shaped their study abroad experiences. This study offers a nuanced understanding of the experiences of community college students of color who have studied abroad and how they employ cultural wealth to overcome systemic barriers to studying abroad. Implications for higher education practice, research, and theory are offered.