Traveling While Black: Reflections from a Year Abroad
I never wanted to study abroad. In fact, when my study abroad advisor casually suggested studying internationally, I dismissed the idea entirely. After completing my first year at CMC with the intent of pursuing a dual degree and a sequence, I concluded that there was not enough time for me to study abroad and graduate on time.
I was extremely nervous because studying abroad would mark my first experience outside of the United States. Many thoughts filled my head. I wondered about the challenges of existing as a black man in a homogenous, predominantly white, European country. I stressed about the possible language barrier between myself, fellow students, and other foreigners. I even worried about the possibility of not making friends.
Nevertheless, by the end of the first semester of my sophomore year, I was prepared to embark on my first international experience in Thessaloniki, Greece where I would eventually study media relations at the American College of Thessaloniki. While abroad in Greece, I caught the travel bug and was left with no other choice but to extend my abroad experience until the of 2019, leading me to intern in Manila, Philippines as a marketing intern and complete yet another abroad program in Prague, Czech Republic. In the end, I only spent a total of three weeks in the United States during 2019 having traveled to two continents, lived in three cities, and visited over twenty countries.
Living abroad for an entire year has been the most rewarding choice of my life, especially as a gay, African American man. Meeting other black students and travelers from America, Africa, and Europe as well as other LGBTQ+ members from various corners of the world has helped me develop a stronger relationship with and understanding of my blackness and queer identity. Going abroad allowed me to step outside of my home, analyze it, and compare my life abroad to how I lived and felt in the United States.
As a black man, I often felt more welcomed in European cities than I did in America due to the prevalent racism and occasional homophobia. Of course, racism still exists within Europe, but it is more rooted in nationality or ethnicity rather than skin color. For example, Parisians might treat you differently if you cannot speak their language, not solely because you have a different skin complexion. This is not the case in America where racism continuously results in the disenfranchisement of minority groups.
For me, this type of prejudice was oddly refreshing because, for once, it felt like people were judging me based on something other than the color of my skin. Over time, I fell in love with Europe, experiencing a connection that even my home never afforded me. This is why I stayed for an extended period of time because I was not ready to wake up from my European dream. To this day, I still miss Europe and the life I created for myself during my year abroad, and I am patiently awaiting the day when I can return and reunite with my chosen family.
Of course, my journey was not free from obstacles. During my trip to Santorini, my friend and I were stranded on the island due to airlines canceling flights because of inclement weather, forcing us to stay on the island for one day longer than expected, spend additional money for a ferry ride from Santorini to Athens, and rebook our connecting flights from Athens to Thessaloniki. Meanwhile, none of this money was refunded… Another mishap occurred in Barcelona when I met a friend for her birthday. While taking photos at the Arc de Triomphe, my camera bag was stolen, and it contained camera gear, credit cards, money, clothes, and my passport. To make matters worse, this incident coincided with strikes and protests. Not only did I not have my passport, but the airport employees were refusing to check me into my flight and answer my questions about the situation. I eventually returned home safely, but it was no easy task. Yet, in spite of these trials, I would do it all again, not changing a single moment.
While abroad, you are faced with tough, unexpected challenges, and it is how you respond in these moments that determine how you grow as a person. Resiliency is key and learned overtime. Sometimes, you just have to say, “it’s above me,” and keep pushing because the trying times will pass.
One year later, I feel evolved. I know it’s cliche to say that abroad changes you, but it does, or at least it should if you are willing to experience discomfort and relish the small moments. You should earn a new degree of confidence from living internationally in an unfamiliar environment. You should get to know yourself on a deeper level: your likes, your dislikes, your passions, your goals, and everything in between. You should gain an appreciation for culture and the differences that unite us.
To the students who feel uncertain about committing to an abroad program, I say stop thinking about how spending a semester away from your friends might put a strain on the relationship. We are only undergraduates for four years, and it is our responsibility to take full advantage of the opportunities and resources available to us. If you stay in one spot forever, you might miss experiences that could shape your future path for the better.