"I want to be a blessing in someone's life because my mother, my grandmother, my aunt was a blessing in my life... I just want to make sure our Brown and Black girls get to go abroad. If you have the right support system, anything is possible." (Alhia, Episode 35)
Much like Alieshia from episode 10, I made Alhia Harris's acquaintance somewhat randomly on Instagram. I reposted a photo that Danielle Desir had used to promote my guest feature on The Thought Card podcast (check out that episode here), and Alhia found it and commented, "I created a scholarship for female college students of color studying abroad this summer. If you know anyone that is interested, please visit @d.i.w.c. Thank you!" D.I.W.C. stands for Diverse International Women of Color, the name of the study abroad scholarship that she's currently offering for the first time. And Alhia is nothing if not relentless; from what I've since seen she's been posting that same comment under any relevant Instagram content she can, just trying to get the word out. So I checked out her profile and saw that she studied in Hong Kong, which I hadn't had a guest talk about yet. Plus, with the scholarship application deadline coming up on May 1st, I figured why not feed two birds with one scone? (Props to you if you remember where that joke is from.)
Alhia, a Bronx native, was an undergraduate student studying human resources at SUNY Old Westbury when she heard about an upcoming opportunity to spend five summer weeks in Hong Kong. Thanks to SUNY's partnership with Stony Brook University, she was eligible to apply for Stony Brook's study abroad program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's International Summer School (CUHK ISS). She grew up watching kung fu movies with her dad and had been interested in Chinese culture for a long time, so she was eager to be exposed to whatever Hong Kong had in store. Only three students from SUNY/Stony Brook would be accepted, and because it was so competitive Alhia didn't think she'd be one of them. But she was! She went in the summer of 2012, and since ISS students take courses of their choosing, she opted for an HR management course and a business policy and strategy course.
It took her a couple weeks to adjust what with jet lag and a food-related sickness, and even after adjusting she had some unpleasant or bizarre moments. Like having her debit card eaten by an ATM and being without money for a couple days, or the numerous times when people wanted to take pictures of her and inquire about her box braids. And she couldn't forget to mention the heat, "It was hot! Beautiful, but hot." But beyond that, Alhia absolutely loved her time in Hong Kong! She made numerous solid international friends with whom she's still connected today (they even had a reunion in Denmark for Christmas a couple years ago). She grew to love the food, especially dim sum, hot pot, and the fresh seafood options. And thanks to the cultural tours that ISS organized every weekend, she got to see various parts of Hong Kong (The Tian Tan Buddha, a.k.a. The Big Buddha, was among her favorite sights).
Women supporting women with encouragement as well as funds
Alhia returned to NYC feeling that she'd reaped so much of the benefits from being able to travel internationally, and she knew that the women in her life had been pivotal in making that happen for her. Her mom, grandma, and aunt supported her with encouragement as well as funds, chipping in to help pay for her plane ticket and make sure that she had some spending money while away. She knew she wanted to pay it forward, and after mulling the idea over for a couple years she finally decided to start her own study abroad scholarship in 2019. Although she had an amazing time in Hong Kong and met so many different kinds of people, she also noticed that very few of the 500 international students at CUHK that summer looked like her. With the Diverse International Women of Color Study Abroad Scholarship, she wants to help more Black and Brown women see the world so they can have the same chance to gain what she did.
Alhia currently works in human resources for NYC hospitals, and is enthusiastically still accepting applications for D.I.W.C. until May 1st. Regardless of nationality or country of origin, all college students who are also women of color are welcome to apply. And while Alhia currently only has plans to offer the scholarship for the summer this year, she's hoping to offer it again in both spring and summer of 2020. Alhia can be found on her personal Instagram account (@halhia) or the scholarship's Instagram account (@d.i.w.c). She can also be reached at email@example.com, and people can donate to the scholarship on GoFundMe (here).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Anything's Possible (HONG KONG/D.I.W.C.)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Chinese University of Hong Kong (Stony Brook Study Abroad program info)
Danielle G. is the creator and host of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.