In 2008, I made Black history. I was 1 of 2 Black students in my program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and 1 of 3 Black students in my program in Madrid, Spain. Was I the first to do it? No. I wasn’t even the first person in my family to do it. But, according to NAFSA data, in 2015-2016, only 5.9% of study abroad students were Black. Since my study abroad experience was 7 years prior, I like to think that I contributed to that growth, and to the creation of some Black history.
I hate to admit that when I was abroad, I didn’t celebrate Black History Month as I do now. Looking back, I don’t even know if I recognized Black History Month that year. Instead of celebrating my own heritage, I chose to embrace my new city, host culture, and its history. This is not to say that I forgot about my blackness, because everywhere I went, I was reminded.
|Exploring with the best of them: Mt. Teide, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain|
With my brown skin, I was often mistaken for an immigrant from a number of developing countries, and I was treated poorly because of it. I was stopped by the police, harassed by people on public transport, stared at relentlessly, fetishized, and ignored at times, all because of the color of my skin – until I started speaking English or I pulled out my magical blue passport. Then, doors opened for me, and warm smiles followed.
I met so many people from around the world, some of whom studied abroad themselves in the US, and warmly recounted their experiences to me. I took all of my classes in a foreign language, which allowed me to become fluent. I fell in and out of love. I got to vote for the 44th POTUS. I took weekend trips to countries I’d only dreamed about, and I will have those memories for a lifetime.
|Learning culturally, Casablanca, Morocco|
Being Black and abroad will always be an experience I cherish, despite being generously sprinkled with racism and microagressions. My study abroad experience as a whole – the good, bad, and the ugly – has made me who I am today. I have a career in international education working with colleagues around the world, I’m a global citizen, and I am able to travel the world more confidently because of it.
Every day, I see posts of Black people traveling and living abroad, and it is truly inspiring! I am a part of that history, and so should you be. To all Black students: seek out opportunities and activities that connect you to your heritage domestically and while abroad, discover beauty salons and barbershops that cater to black hair, connect with any Black communities you can find and learn about their experiences.
And lastly, find your courage, and leave your comfort zone. All you have to do is stay Black and study or intern abroad!
Marquisa R. is CEA's Custom & Faculty-lead Program Coordinator. She studied abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico and Madrid, Spain, majoring in Spanish and International Studies.
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