Finding Community While Studying Abroad
Whenever I am going abroad whether it is my study abroad or just travel in general, I always think about the effects that my religion and race will have. When I was looking at different programs that was definitely a thought that I had in my head, and a major reason why I chose to do semester at sea. While traveling I wanted to find a community where I could express my religion and be comfortable in my own skin without worrying about what others would think or say. Thankfully, my experience has not been impacted negatively because of how I identify. That, however, does not mean that I have been treated or viewed the same. Through my study abroad program I have been to to seven countries including India, Japan, and Myanmar. For example, in India, since I am mixed-race and have light brown skin, a lot of the people thought that I was part Indian and treated me better than my friends that were darker as well as my friends that were caucasian. I find it very interesting that even when I told them I was not Indian, they treated me better because on my skin tone. A shop owner gave me a cheaper price than all of my friends and refused to bargain with them. When I was in Japan, there were two very separate ways that I was accepted. Half of the time, I had people coming up to me asking for pictures and being very nice to me. I can almost guarantee that this will happen to you if you study abroad in Asia. Secondly, some of the shop and restaurant owners were rude and tried to rip me off. At one restaurant, they added an “after hours” tax and could not tell me why. I then saw a local man go up to try to pay and he did not have that same charge, so I had to negotiate with them until it was removed from my tab. Another experience in Japan was the way the shop owners related to me. Whenever they would talk to me or try to get me to buy their products, they would refer to me as “sister” while my friends that are white would be referred to as “ma’am”. There have been more times than not that there are little differences or gestures that are made to me and not the others that I am with. Lastly, in Myanmar I would not say that I was treated poorly, but differently because I am a woman. The entire visit I was with a group of five girls and one guy. Everywhere that we went, people would address the guy. If I asked the front desk a question, they looked over to my friend and responded to him rather than me. There was even one restaurant that refused to split the check for all six of us because they said that the guy had to pay. All of these incidents are small actions, but happened enough to notice that I am treated differently. If I had to give someone who is getting ready to study abroad advice, I would say that your experience really depends on the host country and program you decide to pursue. However, no matter where you are I would say that going into a situation knowing that you are looked at differently than others, whether it's good or bad, it is important to be prepared to stick up for yourself and to not be afraid to say something politely.