Each year historically underrepresented collegians from campuses throughout the United States study abroad excited about their international adventures. No matter how enthusiastic you are in navigating unfamiliar cultures or environments, you sometimes find yourself alone. Consuming news filled with abusive rhetoric, discrimination, violence and the senseless murder of people who share your identity you cannot help but reflect on your place in the world. As a digital native, I realize that you are completely accustomed to digesting a steady stream of live updates on everything and anyone that is relevant to you. However, the daily overdose of negative media, combined with expected stressors of culture shock can adversely contribute to your psychological or physiological wellness. I have learned that unplugging for a few days can help me find a sense of balance.
When you are living abroad, far from the front lines of protest rallies and marches in familiar communities back home, of course you have questions and concerns. You knew about potential threats abroad, but will you be safe when you return home? What does it mean to be American? Who understands your view of the world? Who shares the pain you are feeling? How can you fight for justice and equity from the other side of the planet? How can you stay connected?
Historically underrepresented students may already feel a significant disconnect and sense of frustration while living and studying in countries around the world. Those feeling are magnified when witnessing the highly personal and tragic deaths of African Americans, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others. An African American student sits in a Berlin café watching a video of their closest friends on the front line of the #Blacklivesmatter movement in Baton Rouge. A lesbian student sits silently at the dinner table with her host family in Costa Rica. She is wondering what they will say about the recent shooting of 49 people in a LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando. They want and need to be connected. Although it is impossible to live in two places at once, here are some ways to help you stay connected to the movements and events at home.
5 Ways You Can Stay Connected While Abroad
Write, Journal or Blog – Don’t internalize your feelings. Your perspectives are real and valid. Write them down. Take time to reflect on what you are experiencing. Share with your friends, family and organizations back home. Submit an article to a magazine or online publication.
Volunteer - channel your energy towards positive initiatives. Help local communities in need in the country you are visiting.
Collect stories, media articles or clippings from local newspapers on the topic. Learn about what the world is thinking about what is going on in the United States.
Talk about it. Skype or video conference with like-minded individuals. Connect with mentors, advisors and faculty who are willing to have a phone conversation or video chat. Arrange local meet-ups or coffee with others in the country who share your identity. Listen to their thoughts and share your own. You will find that they stand in solidarity.
Find Home Abroad - Love has no borders. Each country has communities that need support and celebrate the unique expression of their own identities. They may be in a café, community center or local park. Embrace the exploration of humanity and connect with those around you. The struggle at home will likely still exist when you return.
Note: Although it might be is tempting, it is not advisable to participate in protests or rallies while studying abroad. Both law enforcement and protesting crowds can misidentify you as an agitator or subversive. Engaging in physical or verbal altercations and protests may result in your arrest. Moreover, many universities and study abroad providers strictly prohibit your participation in such activities.