As a black girl who has spent the past year studying in Rennes, France, I’m going to set the record straight for all the black girls who are thinking about studying abroad. Here’s what you need to know if you are even considering going:
1. Where you choose to study might be less prejudice than where you live now.
After arriving in France, I was pleasantly surprised to live in a community that was less prejudice than where I lived in NYC. The black and white communities were a lot more mixed and friendly to each other. With that being said, a lot of French people assumed that I couldn’t be American because of my race, which is something that I’m not used to.
Definitely do not make assumptions about how prejudiced a country is before you visit. Do your research and then make an educated decision.
2. Traveling isn’t only for white people.
A lot of black people aren’t studying abroad, but it’s not because we don’t want to, it’s because we’re not being told about it! When I first came to my family about studying abroad, my mum was really open and happy about it, but my other family members suggested that I shouldn’t go. They said I would: 1. Face excruciating racism, 2. Be unable to pay for everything, 3. And that traveling abroad wasn’t for “people like me.” A lot of these opinions are just that, opinions!
3. Studying abroad can be free.
I was able to receive a grant that covered the full cost of my study abroad program. This included airfare, accommodation, and school tuition. Check out your school’s travel abroad programs and find out about their financial aid policy. Also, there are some government programs that will pay for kids to go abroad and learn languages like Arabic and Russian. If you can’t receive a grant, think about working your way through your gap year as an au pair or an English teacher.
4. Connect with other black girls who have already studied abroad.
It was really helpful for me to get advice and hear stories before I traveled abroad so I’m here to tell you to do the same thing. If you can’t find other black girls who have studied abroad, don’t be afraid to leave comments on this article and reach out to me.
5. You might be fetishized.
I was lucky enough to travel to Madrid for one of my breaks but when I got there, there were barely any black people. This wasn’t really a big deal for me but I wasn’t used to people yelling morena (pretty dark girl) at me on the street or voicing that I was pretty solely because of my skin color. Once, I went to a CHVRCHES concert in Glasgow and I was called “exotic”! I was confused. I’m not exotic; I’m just black.
6. Buy your hair products and do your hair before you leave.
I know it might seem trivial, but I was really grateful when a black girl who’d previously studied abroad told me to prepare well for my year abroad with hair products. I usually got my hair done every three months but I opted to be completely natural for the year and boy was I glad. There were barely any places to get my hair done and there was only one black hair supply store!
7. Just do it.
I am a big advocate of studying abroad and/or taking a gap year. My year abroad was truly eye opening and life changing and I think that everyone should live in a different country at least once. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should go, I’m here to tell you to just do it!