Studying abroad doesn't have to be a pipe dream for young Hispanic and African Americans. Bola Ibidapo's Too Fly Foundation is on a mission to help young people overcome the barriers they face in their communities that prevent them from traveling the globe.
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When Bola Ibidapo learned her friend Brandon Miller was raising money to help young students obtain passports, she immediately told Miller she was eager to provide assistance.
“Before you know it, we’re talking and exchanging our own experiences about what it was like to be black, young and abroad and how it shaped our perspectives,” Ibidapo said.
“I shared, when I was abroad, the experience of being one of the only black students in my program. As we’re talking, I go, ‘You should do a fundraiser event like a happy hour mix and call it the Too Fly fundraiser.’ And that’s literally how it started.”
That conversation close to six years ago spurred Ibidapo and Miller to launch the Too Fly Foundation, a Texas-based organization that provides passport and travel grants to individual students and U.S.-based student organizations. Too Fly, to date, has helped more than 170 students study abroad in locations such as Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Costa Rica and Japan.
The Factors Making Study Abroad Difficult
The students Too Fly has helped belong to segments of the population underrepresented in U.S. study abroad programs — Hispanic and African Americans.
“Not to say that low exposure (to travel) or being financially disadvantaged is synonymous with being Black or Brown because that’s not something I want to (insinuate),” said Ibidapo, who is based in Dallas. “But we have seen most of the time we have seen our inequities for our Black and Brown students.”
Hispanic and African Americans comprised 10.6 and 5.5 percent respectively of U.S. students abroad during the 2019-2020 academic year, the most recent one from which statistics are available.
Ibidapo believes lack of exposure to international travel is a huge barrier preventing many members of those two communities from studying abroad. Roughly half of African Americans have ever traveled abroad, well below the figure recorded for both white and Hispanic Americans. Meanwhile, white adults in the U.S. are more likely to traveled to five or more countries than African American and Hispanic adults.
“Even though Brandon and I were raising these funds for these passport scholarships, we had to pause and take a step back and say, ‘Wow! Some of these students don’t understand the concept of travel,'” Ibidapo said.
“It’s not even a thought that’s even been implanted in them of ‘Oh wow! I can go abroad.'”
Ibidapo, who is also a law student at the University of Texas and pursuing a career in educational law, describes herself as the byproduct of people who went abroad to explore. She is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants who first met in Oklahoma.
“My mom was always a curious, studious young woman,” Ibidapo said, adding her mother was often stigmatized by boys during her youth because she wanted to further her education.
“My mom said she would always read books and imagine herself (in various countries), and someone would tell her you can go there. I’m trying to do the same thing for young people, telling them you can go to different places and explore different things.”
Planting the Seed in Students
To drum up that interest in studying abroad, Ibidapo and Miller have taken sessions they’ve titled the Too Fly Flight Academy to various schools in the Dallas area. While the flight academies present information about travel etiquette including dos and don’ts, the occasions generally resemble pep rallies featuring DJs playing go-go music, dancers and food.
“We’re not going to do a PowerPoint presentation,” Ibidapo said about the party-like style of outreach, which she and Miller developed the idea for after thinking about energetic ways they could get students interested in travel.
But even while large-scale travel was shut down during the height of the pandemic, Ibidapo and Miller continued their outreach to students. The two created a virtual curriculum called Travel@Home, for which they curate a travel kit for successful applicants based on a country they choose — either Belize, Brazil, Ghana, Japan, or the Netherlands. The kit comes with a virtual reality headset and includes items from the chosen country, such as its flag and popular snacks.
“We’re getting testimonies like, ‘Wow! Now I want to go to Japan!'” Ibidapo said.
Programs like those can be life changing for those students. Ibidapo cities her experience as one of two Black students in her study abroad program in Argentina as one that influenced her in part to launch Too Fly to help create more visibility for young Hispanic and African American students. She admitted there were times she wanted to hide when people would stare at her in the street.
“We want young people to see the world,” Ibidapo said. “(But) we don’t only want our kids to see the world. We want the world to see our kids.”
As for whom to send abroad and provide grants to, Too Fly has applications for both students and student organizations. Ibidapo said students applying to Too Fly must have limited exposure to international travel, a demonstrated financial need and plans to go abroad for educational purposes. Student organizations or schools submitting applications are required to serve students from middle school through undergraduate level in college.
However, as Ibidapo describes her organization as a bridge between students and the programs they’re accepted to, Too Fly doesn’t select the destinations where it sends individuals to. But Ibidapo has plans for that to change in the future. The organization is preparing to launch a set of curated trips in the next three years called Beyond Borders, which are educational experiences centered on concepts such as fashion, architecture and cuisine.
That initiative is just one part of Too Fly’s plan to expand its reach. The organization entered into a partnership with Ohio-based travel insurance provider battleface in late February, which Ibidapo said will help the organization reach students outside of Texas and conduct more Flight Academies.
But Too Fly’s efforts to expand its scope received a bigger boost that month when Ibidapo and Miller appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show, where the two received $50,000 donations from both Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B and actor and screenwriter Tyler Perry.
And Ibidapo has even loftier goals for Too Fly.
“When people think about students seeing the world and being impacted, we want to be the revolutionaries in that space and create opportunities for students in different ways that haven’t been seen yet,” Ibidapo said. “We really believe that when we’re sending a student abroad, we’re sparking the interest of the next CEO, the next doctor, the next chef.”
“We really want to inspire that intentionally when we’re sending students abroad.”
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Photo credit: Bola Ibidapo is the co-founder of Too Fly Foundation Too Fly Foundation