Studying Abroad as a Student of Color

Thoughts from Brianna James, Peer Advisor.

Naturally, each student preparing to go abroad has their own set of concerns. As a student who’d booked their flight a day too early, had never been out of the country before, and had never even been on a plane, I think it’s safe to say I fit the bill. My biggest concern however, was the color of my skin.

With racial tensions ever present in the States, I have to admit that being a student of color is scary; especially for those of us attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs). While most students aren’t racist, we have to be aware that they could be, and be prepared to deal with these situations, God forbid they ever arise. So it only makes sense that these fears would be heightened at the the thought of studying in another country.

Your identity as a person of color is something that follows you wherever you go, so it makes sense to be concerned about how it will impact your time abroad. I looked back at my own experience and came up with some tips for other students of color studying abroad:

DO: research…but not too much. I didn’t have any friends or family that had been abroad, and at the time I felt silly admitting to others that the color of my skin was one of my concerns. So I did what any millennial with a pressing question would do…I went to google; like actually googled “racism in London.” Most of what I found were discussion forums, and while some stories were helpful, others were definitely less so. Interestingly enough, what I found most insightful was research into Britain’s history. It helped me put the country’s racial relations onto a timeline, and really changed my perspective.

DON’T: expect another person’s experience to parallel your own. Everyone’s time abroad is different. Don’t allow yourself to be immediately turned on or off by something someone else encountered abroad.

DO: brace yourself for horror stories. It happens. When I was abroad, a man came up to me in a bar and told me he hated black people. I was stunned and had no idea what to say. Fortunately the amazing friends I’d made abroad had my back, and responded to him before I even had the chance.

DON’T: let a horror story paralyze you. If for any reason you do have an uncomfortable encounter abroad, do not let it intimidate you from enjoying the duration of your program. Take time for self care and reconnect to your support system.

DO: and I absolutely mean do, be comfortable expressing these concerns prior to your study abroad experience; it’s more difficult to face them alone. When possible, reach out to other persons in your community that have already been abroad to get a feel for their experience. More times than not, it’ll ease your mind. If no one you identify with has been abroad, take your concerns to an ally; explain them in detail because talking can be quite therapeutic.

At the end of the day, studying abroad is one of the best decisions you can make as a college student. Worrying about your experience as a student of color abroad is completely valid and worth preparing for, but DON’T let it keep you from participating in the experience of a lifetime!

The Towson University Study Abroad Office partners with Diversity Abroad to offer resources and scholarships for underrepresented students. Interested in Study Abroad? Come to one of our information sessions, M-F at 2pm in PY 408, or email us at studyabroad@towson.edu

 

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