Why did you decide to study abroad?
I actually decided to study abroad last minute. I was originally planning on doing a "domestic study abroad" experience in New York City, but my friend Sami, who had been on this program the year before, recommended that I apply for this program as a back-up. After some thought, I realized that the opportunity to live and study in another country was something I couldn't give up. I decided to go abroad because I heard how immersive this program was in terms of language and culture (Xalapa is not a very international city), and I wanted to truly become fluent in Spanish. I decided to go abroad to challenge myself, and I think my friends and family influenced me in giving me the confidence to go to a new country, new cultural context, and try to find community in the newness!
How did you pay for your study abroad experience?
I applied and received a scholarship from the program I am attending, BCA Xalapa, as well as a scholarship from Diversity Abroad by being an Overseas Ambassador. I also used funds from work-study, and my job over the summer to fund my abroad experience. Currently I am finished with the academic semester, but staying in Xalapa for the summer to work with a feminist collective. I am being funded by my college, Middlebury College, and the Center for Careers and Internships. I am also getting funded by the Cross Cultural Community Service Fund at my school to organize an arts and feminism camp for girls.
What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?
I think every study abroad experience is different, and it would have been difficult to "prepare" beforehand for this experience. This experience has gone by so fast, and I wish I had kept more of a journal throughout the experience. My advice for someone going abroad would be try to let go of expectations of what a study abroad experience should be. The people you should be hanging out with, the places you should visit, the way you should be spending your time. Trust your instincts and, just like any experience in life, there is no expectation or end-goal. Be open to the experience change, of finding wonder, love, community, family, loneliness, heartbreak, and healing. And don't forget that, in most cases, you will be returning to your home country. This doesn't have to be an isolated experience from the rest of your life, but could impact how you see and live your life back in your home country.
Did you experience any discrimination abroad because of your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or a physical disability? If so, what did you learn from the experience?
I am a queer, mostly-woman, Asian American, able-bodied, spiritual person. Some of my identities are more visible than others here in Mexico. I think race is one that is very apparent, especially here in Xalapa where there is very little international population. I think I have learned to be patient with myself and others, and also the importance of having foreign friends (for example, my friend who was on this program with me, who is from the US). It was important to have her, because she came from a similar liberal-arts social justice background, and I felt like we understood each other when talking about the machismo we experienced.
How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?
This experience has given me the confidence to explore new behaviors, to travel, and to seek out the stories of people around me. Personally, I feel I am able to feel at home and find community, despite language or cultural barriers. Academically, I feel confident in my Spanish language skills. I also learned a lot being in classes that discussed globalization and social movements with Mexican students, because they offered perspectives distinct from those I would have encountered in classes in the US. I am not sure what my long term career goals are, but this experience has made me want to continue to live abroad, whether in Mexico or another country. It has given me the faith in the universe to make the daunting decision to live in another country once again!