By: Jalan Gunning
In September of 2019, I was able to hop on a plane and embark on a new chapter of my life in Barcelona, Spain and it was the best decision I could have ever made. Although leaving my family and friends was the toughest part, I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go and live in another country. Growing up I never thought I would be able to travel to Barcelona, let alone Europe. There was always that voice in the back of my head telling me that there were too many obstacles and not enough opportunities. After working hard and pushing that voice to the side I was able to go abroad for a semester and it was the best thing I could have ever done. Being Black and Abroad is a privilege and gives you a sense of pride and success.
As previously stated, I had many obstacles thrown at me and in no way were they easy to overcome. First…MONEY! I had numerous questions about if I would have enough and if so, where in the world would I get it from? After creating a GoFundMe and promoting it like crazy, I received the majority of my money from there. Along with that, I took the old fashion route and just saved! I was taking half of my bi-weekly checks and birthday gifts and putting them towards my travel fund. Secondly, I was worried about graduating on time (May 2020). This took a lot of research and running around my college campus to ensure my courses would transfer over. This I would say was the most tedious and time-consuming task for me. Lastly, this was going to be my first trip out of the country…EVER! I was worried about whether I would be able to even last the 3 and a half months without my family. So, I began researching every chance I got. I came across many African American ran blogs and websites including ThatGirlMia, Black&Abroad, and numerous blog posts written by African Americans who traveled through different companies.
While abroad, I noticed I was one of three African Americans in my program. When I began this process I was not anticipating that statistic, however it was my new reality that I quickly adjusted to. This showed me firsthand that there wasn’t a lot of black representation abroad, which to me, is an issue. Going abroad is way more than just going overseas to take classes and stay with a family, it is more than a stamp on your passport page, and it is certainly more than going just to say you went. It opens your eyes and expands your view of the world and what it has to offer. You learn about different cultures just by being immersed in them, understand different parts of history that you cannot get in the U.S, and shows you key information about yourself that you would not have otherwise learned.
Due to this low representation abroad, I found myself to be the representation for an entire race. I received questions about the black culture including HBCUs and how we dress. Natural hair was a main point of discussion as many people didn’t understand how you can have braids one day and switch to natural hair a month later. In addition, sometimes while in class, I became sort of like a “spokesperson” for the black community. From what I observed there is a small number of Black people living in Spain and as I walked through the streets of Barcelona, I would get many stares. I guess people weren’t used to seeing so much melanin! I say this to drive home the fact that the low amount of African American’s abroad is depriving the rest of the world of the greatness that we offer.
When planning to go abroad, whether to study or to visit, understand that you as an African American will sometimes be the minority, but the best way to overcome that is to embrace it! Go out and get involved with the many tours that are given on a daily basis. This is a great way to meet locals and those traveling abroad as well. If you are not the type to do a group tour, explore on your own! While abroad, I decided to travel alone to Rome. This was the best decision I could have made because I did things I would not have done in a group. Your experience is only as fun and as safe as you make it. Do extensive research about where you’re traveling to (i.e. Demographics, safety tips, etc.) but don’t be scared to step outside of your comfort zone!