As I sit here in my room surrounded by the clutter that has resulted from the multiple preliminary packs I have done this week, I’ve decided to take 10 minutes to jot down my thoughts about my upcoming departure.
First, let me start with a self-introduction. My name is Emerald Garrett. I am a junior International Studies major. Japanese Studies minor at Spelman College. My reason for studying abroad in the first place is tied to my love of language and intercultural exchange in general, and the Japanese language and culture specifically. It has been my goal to study abroad in Japan since my senior year in high school, and the experience is made all the more rewarding knowing that I can share my experiences through this medium and hopefully inspire more Black people like myself to broaden their horizons by traveling beyond the borders of their home country.
With that out of the way, I would like to share what’s been on my mind in the weeks leading up to my travel. My thoughts have spanned a wide spectrum. Some have been superficial. For example, I have given a great deal of thought to how I will maintain the health of my natural hair while in Japan and where I will find clothing for my body type; however, other thoughts have been of much more depth. My deeper contemplations have included how I will remain grounded in my own cultural identity as I adapt to the culture of my host country, how I will ensure my spiritual, as well as mental and physical well-being while abroad, and how I will remain aware of the issues and occurrences back home—specifically within my community—as I fully engage in this cultural immersion.
The former questions are much more easily answered than the latter. I have decided to wear my hair in Senegalese twists and buy a lot of clothes, shoes, and natural hair care products in the States before I leave for my host country. And I must admit that I still do not have all the answers to harder questions, but I have come to the conclusion that part of my travel experience will be finding the answers to these questions.
What I have most been contemplating lately is how I will be perceived in my host nation. I know that as a visitor to East Asia, and specifically in Japan I will be entering into an ethnically homogenous culture. As there is a very small foreign presence in Japan—most of which is comprised of individuals hailing from either Europe or other Southeast Asian nations—I know that for most people I will be the only physical representation of Black America and Black women that they have seen or met. 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! Pray for me.
By Emerald Garrett