Author: Zenab Bakayoko
Zenab studied abroad in Paris, France with CEA in Spring 2018 and works as a CEA Alumni Ambassador.
Since 1976, February has been celebrated as Black History Month, during which many different prominent African American figures are recognized and celebrated for their contributions.
In honor of Black History Month, I want to share some of my experiences of being an African American abroad while also emphasizing why it is important for people of color to go abroad.
When looking back at history, we are reminded of how Africans were dispersed all around the world through the slave trade, which had lasting effects on the overall geographical placement of and opportunities for African Americans. Because of this, the experience for people of color to travel abroad can be unbelievably rewarding.
Last week, I attended a seminar at my school that hosted the creators of Black & Abroad, which is a brand started by two male entrepreneurs, Eric Martin and Kent Johnson. They got the inspiration to begin the brand from their own experience traveling and noticing that most flyers and advertisements directed toward travel did not include any African Americans. Through their research, they found that African Americans spend about $63 billion in travel per year and were shocked that they rarely saw representation.
In an effort to change this, Eric and Kent created Black & Abroad. It’s a growing business that not only encourages people of color to go abroad and share their experiences, but also sponsors trips. Their T-shirts are worn by people of color all around the world, and the company gained a lot of popularity by people taking pictures abroad and adding the hashtag “#BlackandAbroad.”
Eric and Kent were speaking from a business perspective. However, I was able to gather the true meaning behind the overall message and movement; as people of color, our history instills a duty in us to educate ourselves of the world.
My experience abroad was a special one. I was the only African American in my program, and this was not a situation I was anticipating but one I grew to embrace. It was nice being able to connect with the people of color in all five countries I had the chance to visit while I was overseas.
While studying in Paris, I was shocked to see that in certain arrondissements, (the French word for what could translate to “districts”) the African population was much more dominant. In these parts of the city, you would find quite a few products unique to African culture. This could range from specific hair products, to foods, restaurants, clothes, and more.
There’s no question that Africans and people of color, are major contributors to the culture of any community. From music, fashion, and hairstyles — our contribution can be seen as universal. Think about how popular Reggae and African music is worldwide!
Here are some quick international facts about Black History that many people don’t know:
Did you know Haiti was the world’s first black Republic to gain their independence?
Haiti gained their independence on January 1, 1804, making them the first black Republic and Caribbean island to be independent. The movement that set the tone for the revolution was led by a Jamaican who was a free man.
Did you know an African slave was the first person to introduce inoculation (another word for vaccination) in the United States?
A slave named Onesimus introduced the idea of vaccination to his slave master while talking about old African traditions. When a small epidemic of smallpox broke out in Boston, the master shared the tradition with a doctor named Zabdiel Boylston. The doctor adopted the tradition and was condemned by the public to the point where his life was in danger. However, he was able to save many lives. This practice was later used for slaves during the Revolutionary War. This introduced the concept of inoculation/vaccination in the United States. Onesimus is thought to be from Sudan or Ghana. Onesimus was given to his slave master, Puritan church minister Cotton Mather, as a gift.
Did you know singer Josephine Baker was a spy for the French during World War II?
Baker would smuggle military information to the French by pinning them inside her dress and hiding them in her music sheets!
The House of Slaves Museum
The House of Slaves is a museum located in Gorée Island in Senegal. One of the main features of the museum is the Door of No Return, which is said to be the final exit for slaves before being shipped to the Americas by boat. The walls tell the heartbreaking story of this process, as they display nail scratches when people would attempt to fight their way off the boat.
As Black History Month comes to an end, I want to urge people of color to learn more about black pioneers and revolutionaries from countries other than the United States. You will be shocked to find that everywhere in the world, people of color always pushed through to create a difference.
Originally posted on: https://www.ceastudyabroad.com/blog/mojo/2019/02/20/the-importance-of-being-black-and-going-abroad?fbclid=IwAR0wGgBtP3bPNSDMV4Hj0uCRccn_bq4RP0Ds5o19fjiFOTeVSvleu8S4ZH8
“The Friday classes were over, and my host family waited for me by the school as planned. We set off for a 3-hour journey to my host parents’ hometown in Shizuoka. Though night came quickly, we still stopped to look at the lights illuminating Kakegawa Castle, castle built in the 15th Century built by a retainer of the Imagawa Clan: Asahina Yasuhiro. The next morning, we enjoyed freshly-picked fruits and a wholesome breakfast made by my host father’s parents. The scenery is beautiful there. There are many streams and farms in the neighborhoods. Everyone is so friendly. It reminded me of the small-town I grew up from in Alabama. That afternoon, we visited Okuni Shrine, a highly-ranked shrine in Shizuoka. It has the title of “Ichinomiya”, meaning it is among the top ranking shrines in Japan. Here, I witnessed two or three Shinto-style weddings. The women wore the traditional white headdress and kimono, something I saw during my first week in Japan at Yokohama. If I ever had the chance to participate in a wedding like that, I would be so thrilled! I took a paper fortune as well, and it is guiding me even to this day. Next was Hamamatsu Castle, the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you do not know, he was the first Shogun of Japan. The castle is widely respected for the beautiful stones that make up the castle; stones that are only seen in Shizuoka. Immediately afterwards, I experienced my first trip to a private-room onsen. It was amazing! The rooms had a separate bathroom, bench, and bathing area (along with the hot spring itself). My host dad also surprised me by taking me alone to Sunpu Castle, the historical site of Ieyasu’s lifetime. At this castle, a young Ieyasu was a hostage for the Imagawa Clan. Fast-forward to about 50 years later, Ieyasu gave the position of shogun to his son Hidetada and renovated the castle. He continued to rule Japan while living in Sunpu before his death in 1616. It is nothing more than a museum-styles vicinity now, but it is still quite beautiful. Lastly, I visited my host mother’s family and cradled in my arms a new addition to the family: Sakura. That night, I drank organic nihonshu (Japanese sake) with the host dad and grandfather. We talked a lot about Japanese history, one of my favorite aspects of Japanese society. Playing with the kids, visiting specialized souvenir shops, eating katsudon (rice, egg, vegetables, and deep-fried pork cutlets) for the first time, and having unforgettable talks with my host parents makes this weekend the most memorable time of my Japanese experience.”
–Dorian Andrews, Tokyo International University Exchange, Calendar Year, 2016
“Traveling abroad was one of the best experiences of my entire life. Often, Americans think of themselves as separate from the rest of the world but this trip opened my eyes to all the connects and parallels we have with other cultures. Before my trip I was excited, but the experience was 10x more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Everyday we learned something in a classroom or from the locals, giving us different perspectives. I truly believe studying abroad has made me a more open minded person and has definitely made me want to travel more and encourage other students to do the same! The trip opened my mind up to some many different ideas, culturally and academically, and I will always remember my time in South Africa.”
–Samira Barnes, TU Inequality and Resistance in South Africa (Faculty-Led), Summer 2017
“The Ghibli Museum is a showcase and tribute to various Japanese animators who have worked under the banner of the animation studio Studio Ghibli. It is located in Inokashira Park in Mitaka, about an hour and a half away from my former exchange school, Tokyo International University. On a breezy Sunday, I went with my friends John and Tya. The tickets were set for 4:00pm, so we walked the many streets and enjoyed the nature of Mitaka. The park connected to the museum is beyond gorgeous, with many residents and visitors alike playing and relaxing there. The line at Ghibli museum was long, but it did not take us long to get in. The reception was very nice, and the women who greeted us tried their best to speak in English. However, us three were participating in our second semester of Japanese classes, so we practiced Japanese the entire time. The workers were glad to speak to us in Japanese; I’m sure it made their jobs much easier! Miyazaki Hayao is easily to most well-known of the Studio Ghibli animators. Many tourists come to the museum only knowing of him. His famous works include: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and KiKi’s Delivery Service. The giant robot we took a picture with is from Miyazaki’s classic, “Laputa” or “Castle In The Sky” in English. Once you enter the Hogwarts-like environment, there are many rooms to enter into. There is a lounge area in the shape of the Catbus from “My Neighbor Totoro”, a replica of Miyazaki’s office, storyboards and traditional film machines used by him, and many souvenir and merchandise shops. The most memorable part for me was using an old-school machine and a piece of film I received after entering the museum to retrieve a single shot from a famous Miyazaki Hayao movie. I hope you get a chance to go to this magical wonderland someday!
“Since I went to Ireland, I’ve really opened my eyes to the world around me. Being in college makes it really hard to keep up with news and such, but my professor for study abroad made me realize that there are so many perspectives in the world that it is ignorant to know only your own. I made really great friends in Ireland and we were never afraid to talk about news and current events, something I don’t usually do with friends in social situations. Having people to do that with it amazing and I would have never had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people had I not done this Study Abroad.”
–Emily Trumble, TU Education, Ethics, and change in Ireland (Faculty-Led), Summer 2017
When Elssa Kenfack went abroad in the Minimester of 2018 on an Intensive language & Culture program through CIEE to Salvador da Bahia, she kept a blog highlighting some of the experiences that she had.
She starts her journey on her blog with:
“Coming to you all the way from the beautiful Salvador—I MADE IT! There are always some bumps in the road when it comes to me getting from point A to point B but nonetheless, I have to say this trip was smooth sailing.”
Throughout her stay in Salvador da Bahia, Elssa documented the various things that she did while there. In her blog posts, she captures the culture and various personalities of the town and the people in it.
To read all of her blog posts, please visit: https://ekyzfindinghome.wordpress.com/category/salvador-de-bahia/
“I went to Israel in January of 2017. It was only a ten day trip but it has affected me in more ways than one. This was my second study abroad trip, my previous being at my undergraduate school. Upon returning I think about Israel everyday. My longing and yearning to go back is palatable, as the vivacious was and tenacity of this country and it’s residents has resounded with me since January. I am saving up every spare penny I have so I can take my mother to Israel so that she can have the same world changing experience that I had.”
–Emily Rickens, TU Exploring Cross-Cultural Education and Social Services in Baltimore and Israel (Faculty-led), Israel, Minimester 2017
“Over the summer, I traveled to Minato Mirai to visit some of the local malls and casually shop. I met with my friend Collin from my home college (Towson University), and we ran into THIS spectacle. It just so happened to be PIKACHU DAY! In Yokohama, every year there are parades celebrating the iconic cartoon character. In this video, we met a very peculiar and popular incarnation of Pikachu: Pikachu Diddo! The [Pikachu Outbreak!] event was held from August 7th (Sun.) through 14th (Sun.), in Yokohama’s Minato Mirai area in Kanagawa Prefecture. It usually occurs every year during the summer time. During this period, a total of 1,000 Pikachu perform in a variety of different of shows and a parade! This year also included a brand new Super Soaking Splash Show. These events are really nice to see as a tourist, and even better for kids! Are you interested? Check out this video and another about Pikachu Ice Skating Performance at DoreoTV only on YouTube!”
–Dorian Andrews, Tokyo International University Exchange, Calendar Year, 2016
“Studying abroad in Ireland at Maynooth University was one of the best experiences of my life. I became best friends with people from France, Ireland, and Germany and continued to exchange postcards after returning home. Upon returning to Towson, I knew that I had to go back to my Irish home. Last summer, I interned in Maynooth University’s International Office to help incoming Study Abroad students and ensure their experience would be just as great as mine. I am currently earning my Masters Degree in Modern Irish History from Trinity College Dublin. Thank you Towson’s Study Abroad Office for shaping my future and helping me find my second home.”