Post submitted by Kasidy Brown, a First Semester Abroad Florence program participant.
Life as a person of color (POC) in America is filled with distorted versions of what normal looks like. Day to day life includes and is certainly not limited to injustice, racism, and stereotyping. As a result of our unfortunate reality we have accepted inequality as our norm. We take the ideology of always being second class citizens almost everywhere we go. How people might perceive us or treat us because of the color of our skin is a constant thought on our minds. Before studying abroad, I was concerned that I would be judged by physical features I had no control over.
Being that certain parts of Europe are not known for having very diverse populations, I expected to be the “only one.” I filled the mornings prior to my departure watching YouTube videos like “My Experience Being Black in Italy” and other videos with variations of the same title. My excitement was tarnished with feelings of angst. I kept thinking that in every city I ventured into or every café I entered, the gazes of the locals would be a driving force so strong that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my time without looking over my shoulder. Now that I look back on the experience, I am relieved that these feelings did not hold me back. The truth of the matter is that racism is alive and well all over the world. No matter where a POC goes, there is always a possibility of not being accepted. However, while roaming the cobblestone streets of Italy or enjoying a glass of Chianti in Mercato Centrale, not once was I profiled, stereotyped or the recipient of any unwanted hair touching. I was simply amazed. I traveled to Greece, Switzerland, and all over Italy and not once did I experience any prejudice or feel unwelcomed in any way. I came to the unnerving realization that whenever I did experience any stereotyping or generalizations it was from my American classmates. Studying abroad helped me to understand that the locals were not who I should have been worried about but the type of students I would be around were worthy of my concern. It’s safe to say that whatever POC related problems you have dealt with in middle school, high school, or even elementary school are to be expected from some of your classmates and not so much the locals. Of course, my experience might not be typical, however, the type of people you are apprehensive about meeting will not be waiting for you at your final destinations but will be brought over with you on the plane. Even with all the deplorable problems that arose I would not trade the experience for anything. Having people around me that respected my opinions and were also racially aware helped me to feel even more supported.
What makes studying abroad worthwhile is making friends who understand you and who accept you. I realize that being people of color has been a battle of inequities our entire lives and it is not wrong for someone to worry about how they will be treated in a new, unfamiliar place. However, my advice would be to block out all the worry, focus on the lively new friendships you will make and the charming places you are going to see. Rather than dwelling on the possible negatives, why not focus on the inevitable positives, and like the Italians say “prendere poco a poco,” take it little by little.
To see International Programs’ resources on Diversity & Inclusion abroad, check out the D&I section of our website by clicking here.