Black and Abroad: Volunteer and Fellowship Options

Resources for living and/or working abroad as a Peace Corps volunteer or on an academic fellowship

While there are hundreds of things a person could do overseas with respect to work, there are a couple of options that I think Black folks, in particular, should really investigate and take advantage of in order to increase our exposure to new places and people, as well we set ourselves up for additional opportunities abroad in the future -- think Peace Corps volunteers, and Fellowship programs, like Fulbright, Boren, and Clinton.

What is the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the United States government. Perhaps the most famous, and most effective, volunteer program in the world, its official mission is to provide social and economic development abroad through technical assistance while promoting mutual understanding between Americans and populations served. It was started at the direction of John F. Kennedy and has been in existence since 1961.

What is Fulbright?

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide.  The Fulbright Scholars program exists with the same goals, but for professors and higher-level academicians.  In addition to these, there are numerous other fellowships, like Bill and Melinda Gates, Clinton, Boren, Soros, etc., that may provide similar experiences abroad.  The advantage of programs like these is the level of direct interaction and immersion you will have with the culture and people of your new home.  Be cautious, however! Oftentimes these programs place you outside of major cities, and in locations where you won't have easy access to "Western" items - or people like you - forcing you to really understand and experience the people and places for how they really function outside of undue foreign influence.  These types of experiences can be life-changing and paradigm-shifting!

During my time overseas, I had the pleasure of meeting dozens of Peace Corps volunteers and academics who were in-country, often doing very interesting and meaningful work in the farthest reaches and deepest depths of the community.  The way some of these Brothers and Sisters were able to integrate into the community and truly add value to the landscape was awe-inspiring.  And several of the talented professionals with whom I later worked at the US Embassy, or in Washington at the Department of State and USAID, were former Peace Corps volunteers, Fulbright alumni, or academic researchers.

While many traditionally associate these programs for the "fresh out of school", or the “30 and under” set, there are opportunities for academics and professionals at all ages and levels.  And the subject matter possibilities are endless – health, agriculture, democracy, small business development, and more. The options and opportunities are quite robust.  The benefits of this type of introduction to and experience in living abroad cannot be overstated.  Being a Peace Corps volunteer, fellowship alumni or academic researcher provides you with the tools to navigate new places with deeper understanding and compassion - all attributes that are invaluable in both your professional and personal life.

If you are interested in going abroad through a truly immersive experience, these options are a great place to start.   Now, here's what you need to do:

Go to each of the sites below and look around.  Explore the options.  Do Google searches on "Volunteering Abroad" and "Study Abroad" for additional insight.  Get lost down the rabbit hole of landing pages and blogs about this lifestyle. Determine if this is how you would want to show up and experience a new country or city.  Analyze if this is a route that can get you where you want to go later in your career.  Or is this just something you want to experience, regardless of career potential?  Trust me, you're qualified, regardless of your intention.  And as Black people, particularly as Black Americans, our experiences often allow us to be more understanding, tolerant, and appreciative of unique and different cultures. This life can be for you.  You just have to take the first step and apply.

Hope to see you on the other side, Black people!

Links to Volunteer and Fellowship Options

Peace Corps volunteer opportunities - A great place to start to explore options and get started on researching

ProFellows fellowship opportunities abroad - From here, you can find dozens of options in international development and beyond. Get lost on this website - there are hundreds of options.

Fulbright US Student Program.

Fulbright Scholars Program.

About Mildred Olive

Olive Young is a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with USAID. Most recently, she has worked in Dakar, Senegal on human rights issues. Previously, Olive served as a Consular Officer in Lagos, Nigeria and as a Cultural Affairs Officer in Yaoundé, Cameroon with Department of State. Additionally, her international experience includes serving as a Business Development Executive for a private equity firm in Nigeria, an Africa Program Manager for Vital Voice Global Partnership and a legal aid intern in Nairobi, Kenya. Olive holds a Juris Doctorate from New York University School of Law and received both her bachelor's degree in Business Administration and MBA from Florida A&M University. She is married with two children and enjoys reading, writing and all things Black folk.

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