I’m obsessed with international travel. After studying abroad in Madrid, Spain back in 2015, I made a pact to travel internationally at least once a year. Since then I’ve been to Portugal, Argentina, and have plans to travel to Korea in the winter.
As a Black traveler, I’ve noticed a few recurring experiences in my adventures abroad. The following list was inspired by said experiences.
1. Despite your perfect English and American accent, some people STILL don’t believe you’re actually from the United States.
“Oh my gosh, Karen! You can’t just ask someone why they aren’t white!”
It's not uncommon for people abroad to ask 'Where are you from?' if you don't fit their idea of what a "typical American" looks like…
2. When you travel internationally, you dedicate nearly a whole suitcase to hair products.
Sigh. Reading this article about managing black hair while abroad would have saved me a TON in baggage fees... and my sanity.
3. You’ve been mistaken for random Black celebrities on a daily basis.
Photo credit: Gloria Atanmo
Beyoncé today, Serena Williams tomorrow!
I think that most Americans would agree that Rihanna, Michelle Obama, and Jennifer Hudson all look different. People from other other countries? Not so much.
4. Your hair is touched by anonymous fingers in public spaces.
Keep calm and moisturize.
Locals who have never seen afro textured hair in its various states and styles may want to touch your hair to satisfy their curiosity. If that makes you uncomfortable, politely express your discomfort, and the curious individual will more than likely respect your boundaries.
5. Your skin and hair are out of the ordinary, making you fair game for candid pictures taken by curious locals.
This “instant celebrity” phenomenon can feel very foreign to Black travelers the first time that it happens to them, making it hard for them to figure out how they should feel about it. Black jetsetter and travel blogger Oneika the Traveller unpacks her experience being an “instant celebrity” in this article.
6. You get to have the pleasure of sharing your beautiful culture with people on the other side of the world.
Hip hop in KOREA? Jazz... in Copenhagen???
It’s incredible to see how much African American culture has spread around the world!
7. You learn more about the African diaspora and what it means to be Black in other countries.
There are people of African descent around the globe, but these five countries are a great place to start if you want to study in a country with a large African diasporic community.
8. You have the chance to serve as an ambassador and counter negative portrayals of Black people in foreign media, and also remind everyone that Black people do in fact travel, too.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
“You are young, gifted, and Black...There's a world waiting for you, Yours is the quest that's just begun.” --James Weldon Johnson
So, c’mon! Let’s build a network of Black travelers around the world!
Note: Some of these experiences were pretty funny in the moment. Others were, well,taxing and took a lot of patience to handle. However, knowing what to expect and how to handle it before going abroad can make handling experiences like these much easier. This guide to inclusion and diversity abroad is a fantastic resource to use to jumpstart your game plan.
Also, if you would like to read more about being Black abroad, check out the following articles: