Growing up in Kansas, I was not a stranger to being the only one that looked like me in my classes or activities. If you know what it is like being a minority, you know that it isn’t easy and it is a constant personal battle of trial and triumph. Before studying abroad, I knew that it would be really important to consider how confident I was in my personal journey of racial and cultural acceptance before jumping into the Italian culture.
Photo from Joy’s Instagram
With less than six percent of African American students studying abroad, there is less encouragement in our community to leave the U.S. Whether this is because of financial or cultural reasons, it stands that it is very daunting for African American students to study abroad. Fortunately, I believe that my experiences being a minority has only strengthened my study abroad experience and given me a richer perspective on the world.
Being an African American woman, my double minority status in Italy has been something that I contemplate and struggle with on a daily basis. In Milan, there is a very small community of Africans and an even smaller community of African Americans. I think it is small enough to say that it really does not exist like in most big cities. Usually, there are different areas in a city where different ethnic groups reside. However, in Milan I have not seen the predominately black area of town yet. Sadly, the majority of Africans that I see are begging or selling useless goods in the tourist areas. There are even fewer African women. Because of this, it is easy to see why the Milanese are interested in an attractive black woman that seems to have money. It is a dramatic difference and I have never felt such disgust with my obvious privilege.
Privilege is one of the main things I think that I have learned about through being a minority abroad. I have learned that it really is a privilege to be different and to stand out. I love that, yes, there are tons of Americans in my program, but I am different from them. We may be from the same country, but we have completely different experiences in it. The people in Europe crave to learn about the African American perspective and it is an honor to be able to teach them about it. It’s as simple as my roommate asking me about my hair that I have twisted. It starts as a simple conversation about technicalities, which turns into how it is a part of black culture to wear our hair in different braided styles, which turns into a whole conversation about the issues of cultural appropriation and why it matters so much to our community. While studying abroad, I have learned and felt that my culture is interesting, unique and important to the world. It is an integral piece of American culture as a whole.
This isn’t to say that there are not hard times as well. It is annoying to have people always staring at you. It sucks not having a place to go get my hair done or that sells my type of hair supplies. Also, the negative stigmas surrounding black males still exist. For example, when my parents visited me, we traveled to Rome. While walking down the street, a white woman saw my Dad and pulled her purse closer to her. This kind of stereotyping is so prevalent in the U.S. that we shrugged it off, but these stereotypes exist everywhere.
I think that every minority student should consider studying abroad. It has given me a new perspective on myself and has given me an eye into the rest of the world.
Are you ready for your own adventure? See all of your study abroad options on the ISEP website.
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