Exploring the tastes, fashion, and culture of Europe has been an indescribable experience. Walking through the streets of Rome, I feel both empowered and grateful. My current studies in Ireland have provided me with a new perspective on my future, and I cannot wait to see what Paris has in store for me next! Inhaling the air and drinking the water of another country creates a surreal feeling… There is something powerful about being a young black woman in Europe. Walking around and not seeing people that look like you – from facial features or even salons that cater to particular hair texture…Being completely emerged in a new society.
This in essence, is the beauty of it all. Yet, I am strong enough to create a world for myself in an environment that did not expect me. So far, in both Rome and Limerick, I was greeted with wandering stares and confusion.
“Why is she here?”
“Where does she come from?”
“What is her purpose?”
Those seem to be the questions clouding the minds of people in each new location. There were times where I felt as though I didn’t belong. From Italians peering through me, to feeling the hands of Irish students trying to sneak a touch of my kinky hair. I remember telling my sister that I felt like a specimen in an exhibit. But this is where confidence comes into play. If you were to tell me in my junior year of highschool that I’d be studying abroad in Europe as a sophomore in college, I’d probably laugh it off. If you were to tell me that I’d have three consecutive semesters of straight A’s in college, I would tell you that’s highly unlikely. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in myself, but just lacked the confidence to go out and pursue this dream. Growing up, I haven’t seen many people graduate from college, let alone study abroad.
Studying abroad seemed like something only on TV. Being a young black woman in Europe has taught me something so vital that an American classroom would never be able to teach me. Confidence. Throughout this journey, there have been times that I felt as though I could not go on. In the beginning, I was sick frequently during my stay in Italy. I had no energy to go out and explore, remembering breaking down into tears as I longed for a society that I was used to. All I wanted to feel is the familiarity of “regular” life, and being “regular”. Finding myself fighting adversity everyday as I struggled physically and academically. Yet, no one said that Europe would be easy. It is all an adjustment, testing oneself and building up in the process!
It is extremely important for young people to travel and see the world. This is a form of education that traditional schooling and educational institutions can not provide. School teaches you how to sit for long durations of time and memorize equations. It offers prompts for you to write essays and powerpoints to study. Yet, school only teaches the outside perspective of the rest of the world. You assume what different cultures are like based solely on the curriculum – potentially creating negative stereotypes about certain ethnic groups and areas of the world. There is little to no room for individual opinions. In order to develop your own opinion, you must learn from experience. Studying abroad and traveling forces one to emerge oneself in a new society.
Taking you far away from home and outside of your comfortable bubble. It is an amazing experience because you see the pictures from the powerpoints come to life. The world as you know it renews itself in your eyes. A form of interactive education that can last you a lifetime. For example, I had an Italian International Business professor. He had a thick Italian accent that made some classes more of a challenge than others. Being that this was an International Business class in Italy, we focused on the Italian Economic System along with the rest of the EuroZone. This class taught us how to look at the economic world from an Italian perspective. We learned Italy’s history with debt, Foreign Direct Investments and competitiveness, and in the process, were able to examine other economic regions throughout Europe. Of course this class can be taught in America, so one may ask, what’s the difference? The difference is that I was emerged in this economic region. I didn’t view the world from the typical American perspective. It is important to have a multi-sided view of the world so that one is enabled to create one’s own views about political, economic, and global issues. If we only stick to the knowledge printed in the American textbook, we limit our education much more than we are aware.
Another pro to traveling at a young age is the personal interactions you have with people. A funny example; I was warned before going to Italy that Continental Italians tend to hold conversations in close proximity to one another. I didn’t realize how true this was until I went out for my first Italian dinner! The waiter would come very close to my face to take my order. Even when I’d stand in line at stores waiting to purchase something, the people behind me were right against my back. Some people even stood right next to me and created a line of their own. Normally in American culture, this would stimulate some type of disgust or confrontation. I had to learn that this is simply the Italian way of life. For the past few weeks that I’ve been in Ireland, I’ve had to interpret some of the Irish sarcasm. For example, I’ve heard people yelling to me and my friends “Go Trump!” just to see our reactions. To them, this is not rude or disrespectful; they label it as “Shagging” or joking. These are all little side notes about Italian and Irish culture that I wouldn’t have understood without visiting. It changed my perspective and taught me not to be so uptight and take everything so personal. I also had the honor to serve food to the homeless in Vatican city. Traveling will show you that issues such as poverty and world hunger are inescapable. There are always less fortunate wherever you fo. Whether you’re in the heart of Rome or on 125th Street in Harlem. These are similarities that will connect the new country you’re in to your home nation.
Overall, the study abroad experience is truly impeccable. It differs from a regular trip or vacation because you are actually participating in classes and culture that allows you to adapt the outside foreign culture into your school work. It will inspire you and motivate you to begin planning your future in more depth; a future you did not even know you were capable of achieving . Plan, travel and absorb new experiences. You will realize that nothing is as impossible as it seems.