To my Latinx brothers and sisters, this message is for you. Honestly this message can apply to any minority living in the US, but it’s crafted through the eyes of my experience as a Latina traveling abroad.
Especially if you are a university student, please consider studying abroad. Leaving the US will open your eyes to systems, characteristics, and a multitude of other things you might have not seen before. Why am I telling this message to just Latinxs when really all students should study abroad? Well, some things will be easier for you than it is for a white US American.
Reason #1: Ambiguity of nationality
Most people you meet abroad won’t guess where you are from. Unless you are wearing a shirt with Obama’s face and US American flag print shorts, most people will think you are from somewhere else. The majority of
people in other countries still hold on to the stereotype that US Americans are white with blond hair and blue eyes. Just look at Hollywood, which is where people abroad receive images of US American culture and Latinxs are vastly underrepresented. If you are a brown or an Afro Latinx, people you meet won’t be able to guess where your roots are. While I was in India most people wouldn’t believe that I was from the US because I was brown (I was even called Chocolaty-brownie once!) because people can be unaware of how diverse the US is. I always explained that my parents were Salvadoran, however I didn’t meet one person who had heard of El Salvador. After three months of explaining where El Salvador was I gave up and told people my background was Mexican because it was quicker. Although it is frustrating at times, this can really be a positive thing, especially if you choose a country where US Americans aren’t typically adored or are just seen as a piggy bank. People stereotype nationalities quickly while traveling so that fact that people didn’t really know where I was from allowed me to craft my identity or remain more mysterious. It’s a shallow benefit but it has really helped me abroad and leads into reason #2.
Reason #2: Higher chances of blending in
If you happen to choose a country that has a population with similar facial features as you, then you are in luck! This saved me in India countless times. I was usually confused for
an Indian-American or the tour guide for my group of friends. Also, I’m not proud to say that I paid the Indian price at entrances for several museums. I could blend in and wasn’t a target for as many stares or beggars as my classmates received. Also, I made friends easily and one Indian friend attributed it to me not looking as intimidating as a 5’11’’ blond girl. This has helped me in other countries I’ve visited/lived in like Morocco, Mexico, and Ecuador. If you are a lighter skinned Latinx these first two reasons might not apply to you so much, but the next one will.
Reason #3: Past experiences of being a minority
You know what it’s like to be in a group of people and realize that you are the only minority. If you are in college, chances are that you really
know what this is like. You’ve grown used to it and even though it still bothers you, it doesn’t stop you from being social. Well, when you are in a different country, you will go through this but in a more extreme fashion. However, you are used to feeling like an outsider. For a white US American, it’s harder for them because they might have never been in a position to feel that way. Many other exchange students in my program struggled with the feeling of being an outsider.
When I studied abroad in India, my US American classmates were homesick so to alleviate their pain they would often reminisce about things they missed in the US. One day they were sharing stories about their childhood memories at Disneyworld or Disneyland, and I simply couldn’t relate. I’m not even sure if I knew where those places were as a kid. After commenting several times that I hadn’t done most of the things that they were missing, one classmate told me that I wasn’t even US American. These types of things happen to us all the time. We feel like foreigners in our own country and with our own people. Actually being a foreigner isn’t too far from that feeling.
Reason #4: Visits abroad to the motherland
You’ve probably already been abroad and know that the US American way of life isn’t the only way. Many students abroad experience culture shock or are simply surprised by many of the smaller details to living abroad. Although you might get homesick, you have already seen how other cultures meet the demands of daily living. You probably won’t be surprised to see milk or juice sold in plastic bags and you’ve probably already cultivated a love for street food. Another great thing is that since you’ve already been to another country, you can compare your study abroad country with the US and your motherland. I was surprised to see the same frituras that are sold in Mexico and Central America also sold in India. These types of similarities are comforting and also help give you an understanding of how similar we all are.
I hope these four reasons motivate you to study abroad. I know that there might be other factors working against you and your dreams to go abroad. Some of those may be financial worries. There are many scholarships for minority students and if you go to a non-traditional study abroad destination (e.g. Asia, Middle East), you have a higher chance at getting a scholarship. One really great one is the Gilman Scholarship (if you are a US citizen) which is the one that allowed me to study in India.
Another factor that might hold you back are the opinions of your family.
They might not like the idea of you being so far away. You could use the strategy I used; just fill out all the paper work and once everything is confirmed, let them know you are leaving and that you’ll bring them lots of souvenirs when you get back.
I hope you will see that the positives really outweigh the negatives. For once you are at an advantage for being Latinx because of your looks and background. And like Sandra Cisneros said, “You can never have too much sky”, so go on and see the world, take photos, and share them with others so we can be a more internationally minded community.
*This perspective of traveling is from a brown Latina who was born and raised in the US with Salvadoran heritage. Although “Latinx” is a broad term, the reality is that we are diverse and can have very different experiences while traveling.