Study abroad because … the world is bigger and kinder than the news says. Study abroad because and if the world tells you shouldn’t.
Studying abroad taught me that there is a world outside of the conservative bubble I grew up in and taught me that even though I rarely see someone who looks like me achieve their goals I have learned I can.
You see others that are able to live and thrive on societies built on ideas completely different than yours, but even more, so that it’s completely okay.
But Traveling as a brown latina woman has taught me more about myself and identity.
Let me tell you why:
My parents immigrated from Guatemala to the US achieving the elusive American dream, I grew up in Queens NY surrounded by people of all nations and tongues. But I still did not consider myself American. I realized how much I “stood out”.
I was never expected to go to college but I got a scholarship to study engineering. I realized this wasn’t my calling and my last year decided to switch to international studies and was offered a scholarship to Kosovo.
Kosovo? I had left the US once when I was 5 but never anywhere else. Where is this?
Hadn’t I heard it before?
Oh yes, in my genocide and post-war conflict course.
A nation that in 2012 was only 5 years old, well free education right. My mom and I scrounged up the money for a flight and off I went.
Never did I imagine this would change my worldview.
You see I grew up in post 9/11 NY, where Muslims were depicted as Osama bin Laden, where I grew up raised evangelical and the news and faith told me Muslims were evil.
And I was going to a Muslim nation…
I was terrified, but part of me knew that this couldn’t be right and I went to study conflict resolution.
I landed and I was surrounded by a sea of beautiful Barbie looking models… these were the “Muslims” my nation feared? The girl that danced, laughed, that has now become my best friend. Was I supposed to fear her? This didn’t seem to be the case.
Here I met people from all over the world studying conflict resolution. We had people from Palestine and Israel, Albanian and Serbian, Turkish and Azerbaijan.
I was often looked at and asked if I was black, “I’m Guatemalan- American ” I realized that others had never seen American depicted as other than white. I found this often to allow me to have conversations about race, politics, philosophy to understand our differences but also laugh and share our cross-cultural similarities.
It is Here I realized my ignorance as an American, that I did not know much about the global policies and how my nation had interviewed.
But even more so I realized people are resilient in the midst of war and conflict. I met the most hospitable people who had undergone families murdered and displaced yet still invited me to eat with them.
I learned more than anything that conversation and acceptance will surpass any boundaries.
Since then I have been to 20 countries, visiting friends and staying with locals. To me studying abroad not just vacationing allowed me the opportunity to really understand the fabrics of societies.
I now see so much conflict in our own nation The US and see patterns emerging as I studied in my genocide and conflict studies, it breaks my heart.
Yet, when I bring my friends of completely different backgrounds together we begin to understand and create inclusive spaces. We change our language and even more so we built compassion.
My aspiration is that the next generation is available to go on and interact but even more so to create more opportunities for brown and black students to be able to experience this and know that there is a world outside of here that’s filled with kind people waiting to embrace them.