I have learned that leisurely traveling & vacationing is much different than living and working abroad. Leaving your comfort zone, family, and relationships that have sustained you can be a bit lonely. Some benefits that I appreciate are how living abroad forces me to self-reflect, face my weaknesses, and acknowledge my own prejudices. It seems inherent in human behavior to generalize people into categories discounting their own identity and individuality. If the media had its way then all Muslims are terrorists, Black people are thugs & entitled, the Asian population have astronomical IQs, and the majority is racist and dedicated to the agenda of “keeping a sista down.” I cannot proclaim the importance of challenging age-old lies that are systematically penetrated into our psyche. I have learned, more so than I knew before, that people are individuals and appreciating differences is important, but necessary to growing. On the converse, living abroad teaches me humility and restraint. Believe me, I have had many unexpected opportunities to practice. How different cultures of people receive and treat me is as unpredictable as the weather. LOL. I have established unexpected connections and relationships that I revere. But…. my experiences were not always pleasant.
The racism and discrimination you face abroad differs from what I’ve experienced in the United States. It is more blatant, condescending, unashamed, and unforeseen at times. One example, on a recent flight to Athens, Greece, I waited in my seat as other passengers finished boarding. An older gentleman approaches his seat, next to me, and becomes downright irate. He refused to sit and approached the flight attendant to look for another available seat. Eventually, as the plane is full and additional seats are unavailable, he looks defeated and puts his carry-on luggage in the over-head storage. For the duration of the flight, each time I moved or readjusted myself, he became increasingly agitated and would stare at me in disbelief. Growing more upset at his “dire” conditions, he asked me to lower the music in my headphones, saying “I would like to rest, please turn your music down!” Now…I know what you’re thinking as you read this article……”I wouldn’t want to hear loud music either if I were trying to rest.” This is understandable, except, I turned the music off and he continued to complain about how loud it was. LOL. What a shame, he was a handsome doppelganger for Sean Connery. Although my solution in these situations are simple, it can be rather difficult to implement. A key factor to remember while travelling abroad, we serve as ambassadors for our country and people. You do not want to misrepresent your culture or validate someone’s existing stereotype by reciprocating another negative emotion. Each time, I remind myself that some people are not as culturally competent or cognizant. Everyone does not challenge themselves to embrace diverse cultures or to appreciate differences. Nor does everyone realize the uniqueness of their experiences.