There were so many things I was worried about before studying abroad. Most of them were normal jitters that I’m sure almost every student studying abroad could relate to — things like not knowing the language, your host family, or any of the people you would be traveling with. At its core, a lot of what makes studying abroad the scariest is the fact you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s only so much you can prepare before you realize that everyone’s experiences vary, and you could have a drastically different journey than someone else. This is what made the idea of studying abroad so daunting to me. Not only was I part of the subsection of students who decided to travel abroad, I was African American. That fact alone made me different from a majority of my peers, and that made me even more nervous.
Growing up as a minority comes with a lot of moments like these. I have been lucky enough to not experience any particularly negative bouts of prejudice, but there still is the constant worry of being an outsider. In many settings, I’m one of the only black girls in the room. A small part of me always wonders, does everyone else notice? Does it mean they’ll treat me differently? This situation wasn’t any different. There I was, about to embark on one of the most important experiences of my life, and this was the one thing that made me especially anxious. In my everyday life, my identity didn’t really affect me all that much, but would it be a problem in the country I was so excited to visit?
As much as I wanted to live in a world where I didn’t have to consider my race, it was necessary. Race relations differ from country to country, and it’s good to know all you can before you go out there. After researching for a while, I did find some articles about some instances of being black in Spain and prejudice. Initially, this freaked me out — almost to the point of me second-guessing the whole thing. I tried focusing on all the other exciting parts about studying abroad, but knowing this definitely didn’t help my pre-departure nerves.
Then I met my host family. There was something about how welcoming they were, and how they immediately accepted me, that made all my worries wash away. It was like I was already a part of the family. After that, I never even thought about my race. All of the people I met in San Sebastián never made me feel like I was any less normal than them. This is when I realized how silly it was for me to be so nervous. Of course, it’s important to be realistic about that racism can potentially exist (in some places more than others), which is why you should do your research before traveling anywhere. Although, the simple fact that you’re a minority should never stop you from deciding to study abroad, or traveling in general. Studying abroad was easily one of the most fulfilling journeys I’ve ever been on, and I almost passed it up because of something skin-deep.
The sad reality is that there are small pockets of prejudice everywhere. Now, I understand that that shouldn’t be something that holds me back. My advice to anyone considering studying abroad, especially minorities, is to do it. Find anywhere you want to go, do your research, and go for it. I had so many moments in Spain that I’ll cherish forever. There, I wasn’t just black, I wasn’t just a minority, I was an American, and that meant more to me than anyone will ever know.
Bianca Wright is a USAC San Sebastián alumna. She attends school at the University of Nevada, Reno.