Angelique Evans ’09 has spent more than a decade living overseas, but she hasn’t met many fellow Black Americans. Even when she studied abroad as a student at Marietta, she doesn’t remember many other students of color doing the same.
“I’ve traveled the world, and I’ve been to some really dope spaces, but I’ve still noticed, when it comes down to it, not many folks look like me.”
That’s why Evans started a non-profit organization, Hēi Butterfly The Initiative, which is dedicated to encouraging students of color to study abroad and helping them overcome the barriers that stand in their way.
Evans had her first study abroad experience when she was in middle school, traveling to Australia with People to People. She opted to attend Marietta, where she graduated with a degree in International Leadership Studies because she knew studying abroad would be a requirement for her major. Her senior year, she headed to China, and after that, she spent the next 10 years overseas, visiting more than 80 countries.
Today, she’s pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, studying in the Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (EPOL) department with a double major in international education and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her research is centered on Black and Brown students who traditionally are excluded from the international education field.
In the first semester of her program, a professor challenged her to write a paper about her experiences as an expatriate and as a woman of color. Evans began researching the percentage of Black students who study abroad, and the figure was “atrocious.”
By the final draft of her paper, she had come to the conclusion that someone needed to do something. As she continued to read over her findings, she realized she was just waiting for herself.
Evans’ organization, Hēi Butterfly The Initiative, launched soon after. (hēi is pronounced “hey,” and it means “Black” in Chinese.) The organization is designed to give Black and brown students a community to ask questions about studying abroad, get insight from people who have done it, and access the tools they need to get started.
“Our goal is to create a space where study abroad is reimagined with Black and Brown scholars in mind. We strive not to be a resource for students and let them know there’s no question that’s too big or too heavy or too small and hopefully just make this journey from start to finish and beyond easier because there’s a lot more to going abroad beyond cute Instagram posts and food pictures. We also seek to provide travel resources such as passports through our Gift The World Grant and Passport Initiative, which covers all costs associated with obtaining a U.S. passport; and flight vouchers of various amounts through our partnership with Student Universe. ” All minoritized students enrolled at a U.S. institution of Higher Education, including community colleges, are eligible and encouraged to apply. Neither GPA nor university location is a determining factor in grant eligibility nor dispersal.
She knows there are particular challenges for students of color when it comes to studying abroad, and she thinks it’s important to address them, so students know what to expect. They might study in a place where someone has never met a Black person before. There might be difficult conversations to have; you might be called a name that they see no problem with because their only exposure to it is via music—however, she advises students to take a chance on something new. The pros of going abroad and experiencing the world for yourself in new and unexpected ways outweigh the cons tenfold.
“But the pros are, you meet some amazing people, and they can be from literally around the world, which literally extends your network.”
Hēi Butterfly held its first event, “Passports & Pastries,” in February 2021. Ninety-eight participants enjoyed virtual brunch together and listened to panel discussions and speakers who talked about the process of working, volunteering, or studying abroad. Hēi Butterfly raised over $2,0000 for its Gift The World Grant and ten scholars were awarded grants that covered the cost of them obtaining a U.S. passport.
Evans plans to host a “Passports and Pastries” event annually in conjunction with International Study Abroad Week. Hei Butterfly hopes to gift 15 scholars passports this year and has a fundraising goal of $3,000 due to the recent increase in passport fees. People who are interested in donating to the Gift The World Grant and Passport Initiative — who would like to learn more about Hēi Butterfly, obtaining a U.S. passport, or studying abroad — can do so by visiting linktr.ee/HeiButterfly or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hei Butterfly is a non-profit organization, and all donors will receive a donation receipt for tax purposes.