“I looked up my family tree and found out I was the sap.”

I have the privilege to twist the pasta at the table of my four-story host-home. As my Italian host family passes me bowls of new foods, new sauces and oils, I sit and only hope that my family could feel this love one day, that they could experience this opportunity, be able to chase dreams that weren’t made for us. I’m realizing that this is what my ancestors fought for. It is my duty to be able to push through for them.

The Dos and Don'ts

Let things happen to you and not through you. Do not let others' prejudices consume you, change who you are, or alter your experiences. You are amazing as you are, melanin in your skin. There is no need to prove anything. Your blackness in specific times and places is important. Everything happens for a reason. You did not make it this far for no reason. Keep searching for why you belong. Although this does not come instantly, you have purpose.

Blackness Through a Japanese Lens

My Blackness certainly makes me highly visible in the streets of Tokyo. However, what is different, what has left an impression on me is the fact that when I speak or when I act, my words and actions are taken as my own and are valued without the shadow of stereotypes about intellectual inferiority.

It is human to miss those who we leave behind as we travel the globe. Rather than dwell on what’s missing, this is the time to honor your opportunity by fostering your own home in the place that you are in. The experience of transcending boundaries is the very thing that pushes you to look within yourself to discover something new.  

"Can She Touch Your Hair?"

If, as a person of African descent, you are blessed with the opportunity to venture outside of your nation’s borders to a country with a small Black presence, you become a de facto ambassador for you race. Although sharing your rich heritage and pleasant intercultural dialogue is a large part of this experience, it is far from all it entails. Being a representative for Black people also means socially educating others—sometimes full grown adults—on how to behave when encountering someone who is, for them, outside of the norm.

I opened my eyes when I started to connect with the Afro-Brazilian community. Many of our political problems are similar in terms of lack of representation; however, economically, African-American and Afro-Brazilian communities are eons apart. Brazilians will openly admit that discrimination does occur, but on the basis of class, however, they forget to mention that the majority of Afro-Brazilians happen to be of the lowest socio-economic status.

Our Black is Still Beautiful

Black women from the States their question for me is always the same: “Have you found someplace to get your hair done”? It’s been almost two months since I’ve been here and I still don’t have an answer. This void becomes a struggle that affects part of our identity. India Arie seems to think we are not our hair, yet our hair is an important part of what makes Black women unique and beautiful.

In this nation there is very little exposure to or consideration of black culture aside from hip hop and jazz. With this in mind, I feel both the excitement of embracing a new culture and the serious responsibility of representing black women in a way that is worthy of our stature. I can’t wait!

"The White People are Here"

Not one person in my travel group was white. On the contrary, we are all people of color who consider ourselves to be passionate about dismantling systems of oppression and inequality. Yet, in the eyes of a black South African girl we were perceived as white.  

Learn Not to Compare, but to Observe and Accept

The most important lesson that I have learned in my first week of studying abroad is to learn not to compare, but to observe and accept. In the first few days of my arrival in Rio de Janeiro, I found myself constantly comparing Brazilian customs, traditions, stores, and foods to concepts that we practice in the United States; however, I learned that comparisons take away from my learning experience.

Unpacking Diamond James

As I set up my new space, I realized this is real – I am actually here and actually doing this. I have never been this far away from my family. I am the first in my family to go college, as well as the first to journey beyond the United States. Yet, in that moment, I couldn’t be proud of these accomplishments and see the momentous occasion in a positive light. The only thing on my mind was how I am for the first time incapable of taking a 2-hour drive back to my home on the weekends.

Off To The Motherland...

Yet, as I visualize myself amongst my people in a land that once belonged to my family, I cannot help but notice that the majority of the people who are on the plane to South Africa do not look like me. I am immediately reminded that the South Africa I am going to is a South Africa that was once colonized, that has suffered through apartheid, and that is still fighting to end struggles of inequality as a result of European settlement. It is where my people were snatched, dehumanized, and sold. Nonetheless, this is our Africa. Despite enslavement and oppression, the essence of who we are persists throughout the diaspora.

This Is Something For Us

Often, African Americans look down on our cultural origins in chains, yet we need to assert pride in the perseverance exhibited by our forbearers. Remembering my ancestor’s perseverance encourages me to push onwards, despite my fears, in honor of their memory.

My Body is not an Ornamented Surface

Experiencing objectification in a different country has made me realize that women of African descent share common struggles that follow us everywhere we go. Our femininity, and subsequently our humanity, are constantly at risk due to the legacy of colonization which continues to instill the myth that we do not belong to ourselves. The struggle to continuously maintain autonomy over ourselves in places where we were once enslaved is difficult to grasp, let alone accomplish.

I am expecting my study abroad experience to be as close to an immersion as possible. I want to eat what natives eat, dance the way Brazilians do and enjoy every aspect of the Carioca lifestyle without being too confined to American “precautions”. I am expecting to become nearly fluent in the Portuguese language and make lifelong Brazilian friends. I hope to also spend a lot of time soul-searching through good books and evolving experiences. Most importantly, I hope to return to the United States more self-aware, adaptable and embracing of new ways of thinking.

By Lauren Ruffin


Top 5 Essentials For Going Abroad

Teach them, and learn from them, for your blackness is something to be celebrated. That will make your experience abroad much more stimulating and rich in spirit. You will become more connected your own by embracing the differences between your culture and theirs. Be bold, be black, and be borderless.