Friday, October 21, 2016

Studying Abroad as a Minority


This autumn, pensive morning is evoking a reflective mood within me. As J-term study abroad sessions are approaching, I thought I would share some of my experiences studying abroad as a minority.

Studying abroad as a minority was an interesting and fulfilling experience for me. As a student of color, my identity as African American stayed at the forefront of my mind, acting as a filter during my destination decision process. I was fortunate enough to choose a study abroad program to Ecuador during my January term.

As I prepared for departure, I worried about things like my hair and my skin tone causing me unwanted attention or curious stares. I was brave despite my hesitation, and pressed on.  My first night in Ecuador we landed outside of Quito. We were met by our tour guide, Ivan, who was of a similar skin tone to me. I looked around at other Ecuadorians and realized that brown skin was dominant everywhere! While I didn't specifically look like locals, I felt normal compared to my American day to day racial experience.

One day after many hours swimming in the ocean, making new friends, and riding a boat on the lovely Pacific Ocean, I exhaled a sigh of relief. Ecuador was allowing me to be a global citizen beyond the barriers of my racial, American identity! I was genuinely enjoying myself.

The people of Ecuador are warm and accepting. Perhaps it is the humbling effect of being surrounded by such overwhelming beauty, whether it be the deep ocean or the luscious jungle, that causes these people to understand humanity better. Whatever it may be, my experience in Ecuador allowed me freedom regarding understanding of  myself and of others in new and seemingly unregulated boundaries.

To all my minority sisters and brothers, if you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it! You might be surprised how much you can give and receive when you cross borders.