GW Alumna Transforms Young Lives through International Travel

Barbara Eubanks’ global leadership program for Black high school students aims to spur interest in studying abroad.

February 6, 2024

Barbara Eubanks

Alumna Barbara Eubanks works with Black high school students in the D.C. area to increase their interest in studying abroad. (Photos courtesy of Barbara Eubanks)

Barbara Eubanks, B.A. '96, is accustomed to curious looks from passersby as her cohorts walk around Paris. She understands why Black high school students from the United States stand out during their week-long dives into culture and international travel.

At one café, in April 2022, a woman was intrigued by the students and struck up a conversation with one of them. “She was just curious who we were, and why we were there,” says Eubanks, owner of Going Global With Barbara (GGWB). “One thing led to another, and we found out she’d actually been the chair of the department I’d majored in [Hilary Silver, sociology] at George Washington University. It was a pretty serendipitous, full-circle moment.”

With early dreams of traveling the globe, Eubanks, a native of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, joined the military right after high school. “The recruiter said ‘Join the Navy and see the world,” she recalls. “So, I was all in. Honestly, it was one of the few options being promoted to students of color.”

It wasn’t until she was a student at GW that Eubanks learned how common it was for fellow students to have traveled abroad with their families growing up. “I loved the international perspectives and experiences that were everywhere on GW’s campus,” Eubanks says. “And regardless of their major, almost everyone seemed to be talking about studying abroad.”

That idea of studying abroad is something Eubanks never heard about growing up.

Studies show that Eubanks’ experience is not uncommon. Study abroad programs are  significantly under-utilized by Black students, who, according to the Institute of International Education, make up just 5.6  percent of U.S. students studying abroad. “The value of international experience is well understood in academia, but somehow Black students weren’t getting that message, and that’s a problem,” she says.

Following her retirement from the Navy, Eubanks began working toward a solution and in 2019 launched Going Global with Barbara, an educational travel company focused on raising awareness about the value of studying abroad among diverse students. The company offers online and in-person workshops to schools and youth organizations teaching travel skills, cross-cultural understanding and promoting study abroad through week-long programs in Paris, Barcelona, Jordan and Senegal.

Students prepare for the trips by attending online classes about their destination culture, including its rich Black history. “Black history is world history, and it’s important for our students to know that,” Eubanks says. “By learning about the Paris experiences of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Josephine Baker, Alexandre Dumas and many others, students are able to see themselves as part of a long proud history of bold, Black intellectuals who’ve passed through the City of Lights.  This is often the first time they’ve seen themselves this way, and it’s game changing.”

Barbara Eubanks student group in Paris.
Students who participate in the GGWB program visit either Paris, Barcelona, Jordan or Senegal.

Chris Powell, a high school student who has twice participated in GGWB’s program in Paris and Barcelona, called the experience “definitely eye opening.”

“The major thing that stood out to me was the difference in how people act…over there,” he says. “Here, you walk outside with a certain amount of tension, looking over your shoulder a little bit. There, people were just kind of walking around with no concern about any person trying to hurt anybody. They were just living and enjoying life.”

Wendashia Jones Ray says her 16-year-old daughter Jordan was so excited upon returning from Paris she started losing her voice from talking about it. Ray said the change in Jordan was evident. “It’s not so much what they tell you,” Ray says. “It’s what they bring back inside of them, the new level of confidence.” Ray has since sent her younger daughter Lillie through the program as well.

The favorite part for Powell was visiting Paris’ fashion district with two other students. “I met a famous stylist for celebrities like A$AP Rocky,” he says. “Then we had the networking dinner that Ms. Barbara set up, and I didn’t know I was sitting next to a Vogue model. I thought he was a regular dude but he was a runway dude, and I got to rub elbows with him. He was not that different from me.”

The students stay in residential areas away from tourist districts, shop at neighborhood markets, and dine at local cafes fully immersed in the destination and interact with locals and practice the language.

Rhianna Isaac says the Paris trip last fall provided her and fellow teens with a glimpse of life if they lived and studied abroad. “We saw how it would be to live outside our normal everyday life,” she says. “Being able to travel without our parents at a young age gives us another take on life and how to manage ourselves, manage money and our everyday life needs.”

To pay for the program, the students fundraise or seek sponsors to help cover their fees—about $4,000 per student—which covers transportation, lodging, meals and admission to attractions. “Financial obstacles are very real for some of our students,” Eubanks says, “and we’re committed to helping them to close the gap between their resources and this opportunity.”

Going Global’s rapid growth has come from enthusiastic parent referrals and valuable collaborations with organizations with a shared focus, including The Wells International Foundation (WIF).  As a result, more than 60 students have traveled with GGWB to date. With current enrollment, the program will travel with its 100th student by the end of this year. GGWB and WIF are hosting a virtual panel discussion March 27 on expanding participation of Black male youth in studying abroad.