You’re Divine

By Ami King,`19, USAC Chiang Mai

While studying abroad was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. It gave me a few of the tools I needed to create the life that I now live. The life of my dreams. Let me tell you why.

Hi. My name’s Ami. My pronouns are he, him. I’m currently making this video from Bali, Indonesia. So you will hear the authentic sounds of Indonesia in this video. I’m a black, queer, and trans; world traveler, content creator, and speaker. I’ve lived in eight countries and counting; learned two languages; but more importantly than any of that, I’ve intentionally created a life that I feel fulfilled by. That is walking on a path of authenticity and liberation.

But let me tell you something. It wasn’t always that way. Rewind back to summer 2018. I was working full time in a casino doing grave shifts while taking two intensive summer courses. I walked into my advising appointment exhausted after working from 12 to 8 a. m., then going to class from 10 a. m. to 3 p. m.

I remember very vividly telling my advisor, “I don’t think I can keep doing this.” And I meant it. Funny enough, after validating my feelings and everything I was going through, she suggested I studied abroad.

I honestly looked at her like she had two heads. Like, she hadn’t seen all that I have gone through just to stay in school for the last three years. As a full time student, there were times I was working two to three jobs to support myself and help out my family at times. I was in numerous clubs and organizations because I believed in order to go to places I wanted to go, I needed to be well rounded.

When I looked at the study abroad pamphlets, I didn’t see anyone that looked like me or share any of my experiences. How did my experience as a black, low-income, first-generation student fit into this mold of what I thought was something that was only for white students that were affluent or rich? Regardless, maybe because of the sleep deprivation, I entertained the idea and I told her to show me the place I could go that would actually have classes that would go towards my degree because I could not afford to be behind anymore in school.

A few weeks later, I honestly sat down and I treated this study abroad thing like a business transaction. I looked at the pros, the cons. Does this make sense? Is it possible? Is it logical? Does reward outweigh the risk in all these different things? It started with questions like, what places could I afford? Or, what would I get out of this program? But then slowly questions like, how am I going to be able to afford this? Can I afford to take this much time off of work? What will my family think? What will my friends think? Do I even know anyone that’s been out of the country before? Started to creep out as well.

Now I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will. But I did Chiang Mai, Thailand in the summer of 2019. For me, that process was rewarding. was quite grueling. It looked like working extra hours so I can make some more money and save. That process was trying to convince my family who, like me, didn’t have a passport and never left the country that it was safe, while still trying to convince myself that it was safe. And ultimately, it was trying to wrap my head around, which I never fully was able to, in what ways my life was about to change.

If it wasn’t clear already, this video isn’t my attempt to blindly convince anyone that looks like me or maybe share some of my identities to go study abroad and that will change and fix all your problems. Even while in Thailand, I dealt with racism. Like when I went to a makeup store, just trying to get some mascara and a store employee came up to me, originally trying to help, winded up trying to match me for a foundation, putting a color on my hand that was far from my color. Then calling over all their employees to point at my hand and laugh because the light shade did not match my, my dark brown skin.

Also the isolation and the shame I felt when I tried to share this experience and how much it impacted me to other students and the staff there and them just not being able to get it. I cried sometimes while I was abroad because I was scared that I didn’t belong anywhere. I always felt out of place at my PWI back in the States. And now I was in this foreign country, thousands of miles away, feeling even more alone and even more that I don’t belong.

But what if I told you, even after experiencing that and so many other things and knowing what I know now, that I would do it again. In Thailand, I had some of the most Beautiful experiences I ever had in my life. I tried so many new foods. I started learning a new language. I met so many beautiful people and heard so many amazing stories. I went hiking for the first time. I went to the deep part of the ocean for the first time in my life. Cause I can’t swim. I still can’t swim.

And it was during that time that I truly saw and did things that really took my breath away. Things I couldn’t even have fathomed before of doing or seeing. Things that weren’t even in my scope. Of things I had access to or that were possible or that even existed in the world or things that I just always thought were for everyone else but me. Fast forward to a week ago and I’m still having that feeling of I can’t fathom the things that I’m seeing and experiencing when I snorkeled for the first time here in Indonesia.

Over my last two years of living abroad, I’ve had so many of those moments. Like when I went to Machu Picchu in Peru. Like when I was watching the sunset in Costa Rica, I felt that when I had my first thoughtful conversation in Spanish when I was in Colombia, that feeling of I can’t believe I’m here right now in this moment, but I’m so glad that I am.

Why I still struggle and face obstacles as a black queer trans man, traveling the world to this day, that passion in me to see the world and all the beauty that it has to offer. So burns a little bit brighter to the person watching this, that maybe has one or multiple and intersectional marginalized identities. You are divine. You deserve to be anywhere in this world that you want to go. You deserve to experience every single piece of beauty this world has to offer.

Now I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that those extra steps and obstacles and decisions that you have to make and go through will be easy. But what I will say is just because you have to go through them doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to get there too. It doesn’t change the fact that you belong there too. That doesn’t change that you don’t deserve to feel the adventure and the joy and the love of life that you will have in those moments.

I talked about tools earlier, and one of the tools I gained from studying abroad was a realization I was capable of way more than I could even perceive myself to be, which led me to taking a leap back in 2020 and moving abroad to Manta, Ecuador, which propelled me to now live abroad for the last two years. And go on this path of helping other people find their light. Helping other people see so much beauty in this world. And helping myself get closer and closer to my most authentic self. Studying abroad isn’t for everyone, unfortunately. But if it’s for you, if a little light goes off in your head or in your heart, when you think about the idea of studying abroad, go talk to your advisor and see if you can make it happen.

I love y’all. And thank you for the space to be real, to be me, and to be human. I’ll see y’all around the world. Peace.