Black Girl Magic Abroad: Tips on Traveling in Grad School

by Sojourner
2 comments

There’s school…then there’s grad school. Despite the amount of homework, practicum, papers, and classes, there is more to life than that and these travelers are making it work! Traveling in grad school is possible. From domestic trips around the U.S. to spending breaks abroad in Haiti, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, South Africa and more, here are 5 travelers who have balanced travel and grad school. Let these travelers show you!

1. Hello grads! Thank you for taking the time to chat! Let’s get to know you. Introduce yourself with your name, where you studied (location and/or university name), and what you studied (or are currently studying) in grad school.

Dr. Brimmage, always keeping it fun while traveling!

AMANDA: Hi there! My name is Amanda Brimmage.  I received my Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from Georgia State University in 2013 and my Doctor of Physical Therapy from Hampton University in 2018.

SABATINI:Hey there! My name is Sabatini Ferdinand and I am studying Social Work  online at Walden University. I currently live in Tampa Florida.

EMMANUELA: Hi, I’m Emmanuela.  I’m a travel blogger and my site is called Jetsetter’s Diary.  I have my Master’s Degree in Higher Education Administration from Florida State University.  I’m currently pursuing my PhD in Higher Education at Florida International University in Miami.

JEWELS: I’m Jewels Rhode and I earned my Master of Public Health in Health Behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

SOJOURNER: Hey everyone! I’m Sojourner. I am pursuing a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) with a concentration in International Social and Economic Development and specializing in Social Entrepreneurship. I attend the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Emmanuela keepin’ it cool in California

2. Why did you pursue grad school?

EMMANUELA: My goal is to advance in higher education.  It is necessary for me to attain an advanced degree if I want to continue to move up.  In addition to advancing, I’d like to continue my work with student success and culturally diverse students.

AMANDA: When I started undergrad I was unsure of the career I wanted to pursue. I was formerly a high school athlete and knew I loved sports so I initially thought I wanted to be an athletic trainer. After speaking with a physical therapist at the church I was attending at the time, she sparked my interest in the profession. I did my research and fell in love with everything about physical therapy. I had the opportunity to shadow some great PTs in undergrad, which solidified my decision to pursue physical therapy school.  

SOJOURNER: I knew I wanted to go to grad school after my sophomore year of college. I didn’t know what, but decided on a MSW for the versatility. It has a social justice, international, and business focus, which I love. Also having a graduate degree is good, career-wise too. A MSW is a terminal degree, meaning no one in my profession expects me to have a PhD.

JEWELS: I pursued graduate school to formalize my public health skill set and increase my career opportunities.

SABATINI: I chose to continue my education because I wasn’t satisfied with just a psychology Bachelor’s. I wanted to go further and specialize in what I know is my calling which is Social Work. Also, because social work has a reputation for not paying well I wanted to make sure I took the necessary steps to maximize my future income.

Sabatini capturing the perfect moment: HER SMILE!

3. While traveling in grad school, what places did you visit? And were they for school purposes or for leisure?

SABATINI: I began Grad school in the fall of 2018. I’ve been to Washington D.C, Haiti, Colorado, Mexico, Philadelphia, and New York.

AMANDA: While in grad school I visited South Korea, Ecuador, and Thailand for leisure.

JEWELS: While in grad school I traveled for both leisure  and school purposes. For leisure, I traveled throughout Thailand and Cambodia for three weeks during my first winter break and Brazil for 3 weeks my second winter break. For school purposes, I completed my summer practicum in Cape Town, South Africa at the South Africa Medical Research Council.

EMMANUELA: I’ve traveled a number of places while pursuing my doctorate.  Work has allowed me to travel to San Antonio, Austin, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Cleveland.  Personally, I’ve traveled to Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Grenada, Jamaica, Bahamas, California, New York, Cayman Islands, and Haiti.

SOJOURNER: I started grad school last August. I went to Atlanta in November and Mexico (Tulum, Cancun and Playa del Carmen) in January. I am currently in Berlin, Germany for a class and my second practicum this summer with a girls empowerment organization. I did a quick trip to Paris, France last week with friends from my class.

Jewels melanin poppin’ in Grenada

4. How did (or do) you balance travel and grad school?

JEWELS: I maximized the long breaks we had in between semesters especially because I knew I wouldn’t have this type of vacation time while working full-time in the U.S.

AMANDA: My program was very intense so I didn’t have time to travel during the actual semester.  Instead I would plan a 1-2 week trip during the summer. We would have a month long break in the summer so I would take full advantage of that because I didn’t have to worry about studying, projects, or upcoming tests. We also had a 3-week winter break, but I would use that time to go home to visit my family.

SABATINI: Because I work full-time alongside grad school, I feel like my plate is always full regardless. I can say though that I’ve been traveling long before grad school so I chose a university that will allow me to take my work with me wherever I go. I do try to knock out any assignments that will be due during my days away just so I don’t have to worry about it. But, If I’m unable to I usually dedicate the first day/night to wrapping up all homework so I can focus on enjoying my trip.

SOJOURNER: My program is pretty intense, so I restrict trips to winter break, spring break, and summer break. I’ll do weekend trips home, but I don’t go far during the semester. I’m hoping to travel more via conferencing in my second year. To maximize traveling in grad school I’ll also do homework on the bus or train to enjoy a destination when I get there.

EMMANUELA: At the beginning of the year, I start by looking at work-related travel/conference that I have to attend.  I also think about any special occasions that I have to travel for including weddings, family gatherings, etc.  Then I build my personal travel (which is usually 2-3 trips) around those dates. I usually add all of these dates on my calendar then add all of the due dates for assignments so that I can plan what needs to be done first.  My preference is to do my school work prior to traveling so that I can enjoy the conference or trip so I plan my study and writing accordingly. It’s pretty stressful at times to stay on top of everything but I do what I can and try not to beat myself up if I’m not able to get everything done.  I sometimes have to say no to social things so that I can get school things done.

Winter break is a lot better in Mexico (pictured: Sojourner)

5. Grad school is a busy time and you can’t always catch flights when you want. How did you learn to travel or feed your wanderlust even when you couldn’t go on a grand adventure?

SABATINI: When I can’t jump on a plane I do stay-cations. A stay-cation is a vacation close to home whether it be a road trip to the city next door or a few days in another city around your state. I love because they’re close, usually can cost less, and all I need is a few days (usually my two days off during that week).

EMMANUELA: This semester has been tough for me.  I am at a point of my program where I had to do a lot of reading, writing, and research which wasn’t conducive to traveling.  This has prevented from traveling since December. What I have done was think of the travel that I will be doing after the semester is over.  I already have a trip to Mexico planned for the end of May which was an invitation from some friends who are celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary.  On top of celebrating their big accomplishment, I’m also using the trip to celebrate successfully defending my dissertation proposal.

AMANDA: During the semester I would plan out my summer trips which got me really excited leading up to the trip.  I’ll admit some days I got a little too excited and chose planning and traveling in grad school over studying which reflected in some of my tests! Lol

JEWELS: North Carolina is a beautiful state with a lot of interesting sites to see. Since I’m not originally from NC, when I wasn’t studying, I would often take time to explore my area and the surrounding states. I decorated my room with a lot of mementos from my travels so that I was always reminded of special moments regardless if I couldn’t travel at the time.

Amanda traveling ethically with elephants in Thailand

6. Did you pursue a graduate program outside of the U.S.? If so, why? If not, why not?

SOJOURNER: I applied to a school in London (and got in), but decided the program wasn’t as good of a fit for my future aspirations. I would recommend people look into programs abroad just to see what’s out there, and doing it because it’s a good match and not just because it’s “abroad.” It may be a better fit for you!

AMANDA: While I love to travel, I wasn’t ready to live overseas at that point in my life.  I honestly didn’t know if there were any U.S accredited PT programs overseas and didn’t even think to research it.

SABATINI: I would have liked to but I didn’t want to wait another full year just to apply (once I found out about it).

JEWELS: I didn’t pursue a graduate program outside of the U.S. because I only applied to top public health programs, which happened to be in the U.S. 

Grad school breaks with camels? Yes please Emmanuela!

7. How did you pick your graduate program? Were you looking for one that incorporated traveling in grad school? And if so, did you take them?

EMMANUELA: I chose my program due to convenience.  I work at the university where my program is housed which provides the perk of tuition waivers.

JEWELS: When picking my graduate program I considered the following things: 1) ample opportunities for their students to work abroad 2) job placement rate  3) financial aid. At Gillings, there were a lot of professors engaging in interesting work abroad. My academic advisor was well connected in the global health world and he was instrumental in connecting to my summer practicum.

AMANDA: I chose to apply to Hampton because of the diversity. When I looked at other physical therapy programs, I usually only saw few people who looked like me in the class. At Hampton, our class was filled with people from all different backgrounds, ages, ethnic/racial groups, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs. Representation matters and I think diversity is important to increase cultural competence for optimal patient care.

SABATINI: I picked social work because it’s my God-given calling to advocate for those in need. My heart even as a child has always hurt for the disadvantaged and I want to leave my mark by fighting for their needs.

SOJOURNER: During AmeriCorps, I realized just how passionate I was about social work issues. I had just returned from my Fulbright year the year before, so I wanted a program that combined by my interests. The MSW was it and so I applied! I also intentionally picked a program with an international focus and opportunities. Everything has gone according to my plan and I’m taking advantage of them this summer, and then hopefully again during Winter Break.

Traveling with a friend is always a good idea

8. Money is a huuuuge burden for grad students, particularly in the U.S with the expensive costs of higher education. How did you fund your adventures? Drop some budget hacks and money-saving tips, if you have them!

JEWELS:  I saved a decent amount while I worked for two years before attending graduate school and I was fortunate enough to attend grad school tuition free through a graduate research assistant position. I was able to partly fund my practicum in South Africa, by assisting my advisor with research in exchange for financial support for the trip. The rest of my expenses was covered by my savings. In terms of money savings, I really tried to eat at home as much as possible rather than going out to eat all the time and maximized my student discount where ever I could.

EMMANUELA: Although, I work full time while pursuing my doctoral degree, it is a challenge to allocate funds to travel.  I have a lot of bills which is a part of adulting but it still annoying. At the beginning of the year, I start by looking at work-related travel/conference that I have to attend.  Then I build my personal travel (which is usually 2-3 trips) around those dates. I then create a plan for saving. This plan usually involves cutting down on eating out, using credit card points, etc.  I also use the skyscanner or google flights apps to find the best flight deals.

SABATINI: TRAVELING (IN GRAD SCHOOL) COSTS MONEY! I’m a server/bartender and these jobs help tremendously because I not only make good money within a short amount of time, I make cash tips as well! I saw that I was making a lot of cash tips so I started the #roadto1000 travel savings jar and what it is is, all cash tips made goes into a jar until I reach the money goal I set. I also love paying myself. I pick an amount every payday that I will put in a savings account and I do that as soon as I get paid as if it was an automatic payment to myself. One of my favorite budget hacks is traveling off-season. Instead of traveling to Chicago in the summer when the weather is perfect, I opted for the cheapest flight in January (freezing but not death) and I still had the time of my life for my $80 round trip ticket!

AMANDA: Prior to starting grad school, I was working full time and saving.  I used some of that money I saved towards my trips which probably wasn’t the most responsible idea, but if I could do it all over again, I would not change a thing!  I love using Google Flights, Airbnb, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and a ton of other apps to help me keep up on the cheapest deals because traveling in grad school doesn’t have to be expensive. I wrote a blog post about how I find travel deals here.

Fro? Check. Machu Picchu? Check.

9. One way grad students travel is by attending conferences. Did you take advantage of these opportunities? And if so, where did you go and how did you find out about the conference(s)?

SABATINI: I will be attending a conference for my field in either Arizona or Atlanta. I chose Atlanta because my sister lives there and I won’t have to pay for lodging which is a win in my book! Plus my sister is a photographer (I can take my updated professional headshots), and Atlanta has a lot of places I want to explore.

EMMANUELA: Yes, I have definitely taken advantage of conference travel.  I’ll typically add a day before or after to do some exploring.  I also take the time to explore great eateries when the conference doesn’t cover a meal.  Work related conferences have allowed me to travel to San Antonio, Austin, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Cleveland.  The conferences are mostly related to my field in higher education and associations that I belong to. If you’re interested in conferences, I would recommend speaking to your advisor or faculty to get a sense of what conferences are related to the degree that you are pursuing.

AMANDA: Unfortunately, I did not, but I wish I did and I highly recommend other people do!  It’s a great opportunity to travel while also expanding your knowledge about your profession.

10. How do you think travel has influenced (or will influence) your approach to negotiating or utilizing vacation days post-grad?

AMANDA: I have actually been working post-grad for almost a year now. Before I even started working I TOLD my boss what dates I would need off because I already had two trips planned.  I do miss the long school breaks, but luckily my job offers a decent amount of paid time off and has never told me no when I needed time off for a trip.

JEWELS: I am not afraid of taking my vacation time. My motto is I earned it so I’m going to use it. I maximize my vacation time by planning trips around holidays. I haven’t done this personally, but I have heard of people negotiating more vacation time during their hiring process. It’s something I will definitely try in the future.

SOJOURNER: I’m already plotting to negotiate post-graduation haha. I think it’s important to know yourself and what you value, so I’ll keep travel in mind as I’m on the job hunt. I’ll probably have a trip booked before I’m hired honestly. #priorities

Imagine walking with this view every day on campus…*dreams*

11. Any last advice for future grad students who love to travel?

SABATINI: All in all, travel is great but you never have to go far to experience it. DO NOT lose sight of your education just because others are traveling more than you. DO WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU.

EMMANUELA: You can do both.  You just have to be creative and patient to be successful academically while traveling the world.  One of the things that I’ve done is reward myself with a trip at the end of a semester to celebrate my hard work.  I take advantage of the week between semesters to plan trips. Knowing that there is a great trip at the end of the semester, keeps me motivated to push through.

JEWELS: For traveling in grad school, I highly recommend that early on students identify the faculty/ departments that are doing global work and find ways to get involved. A lot of professors have funding for students to help with research overseas. Also, maximize your life transition time! Some of my longest and furthest trips have been either during winter/ summer breaks as a student or in between job positions.

Grenada views for Emmauela

AMANDA: Save, save save and don’t let fear hold you back!

SOJOURNER: Traveling in grad school CAN happen! Don’t let outside influences discourage you! They (and your work/responsibilities) aren’t going anywhere.

Sabatini is the ultimate foodie!

12. And of course, where can we find you on the interwebs?!

AMANDA: You can follow me at @ptpassages on Instagram and subscribe to my blog at ptpassages.com.

JEWELS: Feel free to subscribe to my blog at www.traveljewels.net and follow me on IG @_traveljewels_

EMMANUELA: My website is www.jetsettersdiary.com.  I’m also on IG at @jetsetters_diary and Twitter @jetsettersdiary

SABATINI: My website is www.mytastefulventures.com, you can find me on Instagram too @mytastefulventures, and my Facebook is Sabatini Ferdinand.

SOJOURNER: You can find me at www.sojournies.com! Also on Instagram @thesojournies, Twitter @sojournies, and Facebook called Sojournies (of course).

Colorful Jewels in Paris

Thanks for reading! Have you considered grad school? For more school and travel advice, PIN this post!!

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2 comments

Claire June 15, 2019 - 7:47 pm

These ladies made great points about choosing grad school for the right reasons, and not just as an avenue to get you abroad. I got into grad school in the UK and almost went for it, but I got honest with myself and knew I was really only doing it so I could stay in Europe and travel around there for the year, the program itself was secondary. Instead I’m just going to do an extended backpacking trip there. If studying is still important to me in the future I can consider it again, but with these tips in mind to do it smart – thanks for this article!

Reply
Sojourner June 16, 2019 - 4:32 pm

No problem! I hope you have alll the fun on your backpacking trip!!

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