Providing passports and fading frontiers: DCPS Study Abroad fosters global citizenship


Photo courtesy of Chloe Fatsis

Ava Nicely

Wilson junior Sierra Johnson will be studying abroad in China this summer as part of DCPS Study Abroad. With dreams to travel the world as much as possible, this program is her first step towards this goal. “I have always really wanted to study abroad in college so hearing that there was a free opportunity to do so in high school, I would be crazy not to apply,” she said.

Johnson is looking forward to fully taking advantage of her time abroad this summer. “My goal is to get inspired and learn as much as I can on this trip. I am traveling to a foreign country with completely different customs, different culture, different traditions, different people and so much more,” she said.

Launched in 2016 as the nation’s first fully-funded K-12 study abroad program, DCPS Study Abroad has sent more than 800 students to 17 countries as of summer 2017. The integrative program is offered to DCPS students in eighth and 11th grade, targeting three different overseas experiences: language immersion, cultural immersion, and service learning. DCPS Study Abroad strives to make travel accessibility more equitable among students as part of the goal of their 2012-2017 strategic plan “A Capital Commitment.”

This initiative aims to provide “world-class education that prepares ALL of our students, regardless of background or circumstance, for success in college, career and life.” Study abroad programs are often quite expensive and are usually only accessible to affluent families. DCPS gives a larger, more diverse population of students the opportunity to participate in programs overseas by covering all travel expenses, including passports. To date, DCPS Study Abroad has provided 801 passports to students free of charge.

In order to meet its objective of making studying abroad more equitable, the DCPS Study Abroad application considers a student’s prior travel experience in addition to a student’s motivation to travel, and the merit of their application. Of the 380 students who studied abroad in the summer of 2016, 47 percent of eighth grade and 51 percent of 11th grade participants were leaving the U.S. for the first time.

Another factor considered in a student’s application is their school’s federal Title I percentage, the percentage of students who qualify for ‘Free-and-Reduced-Price Meals.’ More students are accepted into the program from Title I schools.

DCPS Study Abroad is highly competitive, with fewer than 30 percent of applicants admitted into the program. “Every year, DCPS Study Abroad receives more student applications than our budget can support. Our summer 2018 program, for example, received over 1,500 applications for approximately 450 available slots,” said Kayla Gatalica, manager of DCPS Global Programs.

Upon admission to a DCPS Study Abroad program, students must undergo several orientations to prepare for their trip. According to Gatalica, “Students are required to attend pre-departure meetings for their trips, where they learn about their destination, strategies for travel safety, and program expectations.”

Wilson junior Erin Harper is excited to be participating in the DCPS Study Abroad Cultural Learning and Service in Senegal program this summer. In order to prepare for the trip, she is required to attend five mandatory meetings each on the last Thursday of every month. “I met the other kids and trip leaders and we talk about how we need to handle ourselves and represent DCPS well, being that we’re going to a foreign country,” Harper said.

Once students return from their enriching experience abroad, they must create a Making Global Local Project that reflects what they have learned throughout the program and allows them to share it with others at a public showcase in September. “The project requires that each student identifies a source of inspiration for making the world a better place and envision a plan for translating inspiration into action,” said Gatalica.