Internationalizing Latinx Student Experiences

Hispanic Community February 2023 PREMIUM
Opening opportunities for Latinx and BIPOC students to benefit from study abroad programs.

Written by Emmet E. Campos, Ph.D.

Students of color have been historically underrepresented in education abroad programs, and for Latinx students in general and Latinx males in particular, we also know this to be true. Why should we view this educational issue as a problem? Numerous studies have pointed out the power of expanding student campus experiences through an array of international studies and study abroad programs. In fact, scholars have noted how these educational programs provide essential academic and cultural enrichment opportunities that lead to a more globalized identity, and can provide essential skills and aptitudes which lead to more professional opportunities and prepare students’ entry into today’s international workforce (Walker, Lyons and Vaught, 2022). According to these scholars, global learning practices build “intercultural competence and multidimensional identities” (Walker, 2022). For many scholars like myself and others who have directed international studies courses, we believe that global learning should be thought of as a fundamental and integral part of higher education.

This article explores how higher education institutions can better serve the needs of Latinx students through international study abroad programs. Drawing on the experiences from our Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) study abroad course, developed four years ago, and the groundbreaking Global Leadership and Social Impact Program developed by UT Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE), I would like to share some lessons to better serve this student population.

At UT Austin, as Director of Project MALES, a set of research and programmatic initiatives focused on supporting Latinx men, we developed an interdisciplinary Maymester course that introduces students to emergent research on Latinx students in K-12 and higher education in the US through a transnational lens. We call it Latinx Identities Across the Americas. The course explores Mexico’s vast richness through critical readings, historical and cultural excursions and community service learning with local NGOs to provide rich, cultural experiences using an intersectional and CRT lens and framework. In the three years that we have taught the course, our team of instructors has witnessed the transformative power of taking students abroad to explore this topic through a transnational lens.

Project MALES History

Project MALES was founded in 2009 by Dr. Victor Sáenz and Dr. Luis Ponjuán to serve Latino/x men and has implemented high impact programs to serve this population of students. Project MALES’ work consists of three core initiatives: a Research Institute focused on Latinx men, a statewide Consortium of K-12 and higher education institutions, and the Project MALES Mentoring Program serving K-12 students in East Austin schools. As instructors, we also teach classes in the College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts Departments on these subjects. These classes also share an experiential component that takes student experiences outside the classroom.

About 5 years ago, we realized the need to expand students’ experiences even more broadly, and explored the idea of “internationalizing” Project MALES. Both Dr. Sáenz and I had traveled extensively, and we knew the transformative power of traveling abroad, especially to Mexico, where our families originated. Personally, I traveled for six months in Mexico in the mid 1980s and was forever transformed by that experience. I knew I wanted to share those opportunities with students we served, but in a more structured and directed environment. After co-leading a Costa Rica Maymester Program in 2019, I realized the potential to expand study abroad to Project MALES.

BIPOC Study Abroad at UT Austin

About 12 years ago, like many other major IHE’s, UT Austin lagged woefully behind in serving the needs of BIPOC students and exposing them to the benefits of studying abroad in contrast to other students. Thus, the UT International Office approached Dr. Leonard Moore, then VP of the DDCE, to consider how to more effectively serve BIPOC students on the UT campus. In 2012, for example, UT’s white students overwhelmingly represented the majority of all students who studied abroad before graduation. This story was recounted by Dr. Devin Walker at UT in his co-edited book, Historically Underrepresented Faculty and Students in Education Abroad (2022). In this book, Walker shares how under the guidance of International Studies at UT and of Dr. Moore, study abroad was integrated and became a focus of DDCE programming. In May 2013, with his UT faculty colleague, Dr. Ge Chen, Dr. Walker conducted the first faculty led trip to Beijing, China. Over the years, international studies programming at DDCE and UT has grown, and now has programs to Cape Town, South Africa, Costa Rica, and Dubai. Since its founding in 2013, the program has served hundreds of students of color, predominantly Black and Latinx students.

Puebla Maymester/Latinx Identities Across the Americas

For our Maymester program, we visited Mexican universities in Mexico City and Puebla, and ultimately partnered with Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP). UDLAP is a small private liberal arts campus located just outside Mexico City, and its faculty and staff were welcoming and supported our course needs. We kicked off our first class in May 2021, Latinx Identities Across the Americas, after a couple of years of planning and postponement in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the lingering impact of the pandemic, we persevered and became the only faculty-led program at UT Austin to travel abroad that year. Last year, we traveled with our second class, taught on the campus with UDLAP faculty support and led historical and cultural excursions to Puebla, Cholula, Mexico City, and Oaxaca City. We are currently preparing for our third trip in May 2023 and added Veracruz City to the itinerary to explore the Mexican Afro-Mexicano community’s historical and cultural influences. The course readings, films, and faculty-led discussions serve as an introduction to the historical and cultural vastness that is Mexico. It allows students to think critically about Mexican history, politics, and culture through an exploration of Mexican American and Latinx identity construction and performance. It also considers students’ experiences as Latinx, and how educational and other civic institutions in the US and Mexico impact those identity formations.


Through our course evaluations, we found that students who have taken the class have gained a more complex and nuanced understanding of their own history and culture through class discussions and excursions to major history and art museums, archaeological sites like Teotihuacan and Monte Alban, and other experiential opportunities to engage with local NGOs. Students noted how these experiences contextualized their understanding of the course topic by deepening their overall understanding of the social and cultural diversity of Mexico, as well as their own sense of themselves and their family history in Mexico and the US. Students have also shared how the class helped them connect and learn about their specific ancestral or cultural heritage, and gain a more complex understanding of identity formation for Mexican American communities. Scholars describe these experiences as one reason Latinx students choose Mexico as a heritage destination. As faculty of color at UT, we see the importance of developing interdisciplinary frameworks and programs, like our Puebla Maymester course, as essential strategies for supporting efforts to expand diversity, retention, recruitment, and graduation for Latinx students in particular and BIPOC students in general. •


Moreno, A. A. (2022). “It Wasn’t Only Going to China. It Was Also the People That I Was Going With”: The Impact of Latin* Identity and Representation in Education Abroad. In Historically Underrepresented Faculty and Students in Education Abroad (pp. 111-137). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Walker, D. L., Lyons, L. M., & Vaught, S. (Eds.). (2022). Historically Underrepresented Faculty and Students in Education Abroad: Wandering Where We Belong. Springer Nature.

About the author:

Emmet E. Campos, Ph.D. directs Project MALES/Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT Austin and is responsible for communications and engagement with key stakeholders and community partners. He also teaches in the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Education. He earned a B.A. in English/Ethnic & Third World Studies and Ph.D. in Cultural Studies in Education/C&I from UT Austin., 512 567-4553

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