Though she was accepted to study abroad in Russia, Tatiana Rosario’15 decided not to go. As a black Puerto Rican, she was nervous about standing out and the potential prejudice she might face. A conversation with a fellow student of color who had been abroad changed her mind, and now she’ll go ahead with her plans this fall.
But Rosario’s qualms got her thinking about other students. In January, she recruited other students to take part in a panel discussion to talk about their experiences—or about the reasons they decided not to go abroad. Besides Rosario and Clark, five students shared their stories.
Kidan Araya’13 talked about encountering a distinct lack of excitement about her presence from her host family in Cameroon, especially in contrast to the hospitality they showed her white friend, also studying abroad in the country.
“That was really shocking for me,” Araya said. “I didn’t think I’d be treated differently because of my race. I was a black student studying in a black country.” On many occasions, Cameroonians also referred to Araya as “white.”
“I found myself having to navigate through multiple social identities and new-found challenges and privileges in living in a society and culture where my race, skin color, gender, and social class meant something completely different than what it has meant in my experience living in the United States,” she said.
Student panelists said they sometimes struggled to find people who could relate to their situation. When Ashaki Hall’14 reached out to other students in her program while in Kaifeng, China, she encountered a “that’s just the way it is” reaction, or comparisons to what it felt like to stand out as a white foreigner in China.
Not all experiences were negative. “Being a person of color was an asset for me abroad,” said Anthony Otey’13. In Brazil, people assumed Otey was Brazilian, allowing him to blend in. In France, people thought he was of French-speaking Arab descent and spoke to him in French instead of English, an asset for a student of the language.
Though some experiences were difficult, students say they want to encourage students of color to study abroad.
“Oftentimes, we shy away from uncertainty, but it’s essential to personal growth and development,” said Karla Figueroa’13.