I am an advocate of traveling and international exchanges. When you travel, your assumptions and preconceptions about a country are challenged. And as you travel, you are exposed to people who might also have assumptions and stereotypes about you. For some people, this will be the first time in their lives being exposed to a black person, let alone a black American.
I have been fortunate to travel to many countries and live in Vietnam, India, Spain, and China. And let me tell you, I have had a different experience in each country. I have written a post entitled 9 Experiences You May Have As A Black Woman Traveling Overseas.
My experiences traveling as a black woman overseas have ranged from embarrassment and humiliation to joy and feeling like a celebrity. Every experience was unique and different. And you may have completely, totally opposite experiences. And that is okay.
And if you do have sucky experiences, I apologize. I hope that it doesn’t deter you from continuing to travel. For every person that spews ignorance and hate, there are tons more wonderful and amazing people.
In this post, I outline some ways you can cope as a black woman traveling abroad.
While the majority of my experience overseas has been amazing, there were a few times when it sucked. Like the time I was followed around the store by a police officer…even though I been to that grocery store hundreds of times because I lived across the street. Or the time where some lady runs to me and pulls my hair and doesn’t let go until she gets a picture.
These experiences can be jarring and leave you feeling angry, hurt, embarrassed, or humiliated. Allow yourself to process these emotions. If you want to cry, it’s okay. If you just want to go back to your hotel room and take a moment to collect yourself, that’s okay too. How you process your emotions is your business.
But I also urge you to be resilient and to get back out there.
No matter how amazing you are, some people will not be able to see beyond your skin color and will put you in a box. This is based on preconceived ideas about what a black woman is and should be. But you shouldn’t let that put a damper on your light. You have to remind yourself who you are. You are royalty. You are a queen. You are simply amazing, and you have to sometimes laugh and just move forward. Their ignorance is not your problem. It is not a burden you should have to carry.
Even if we take identity out of the equation, traveling overseas is sometimes straight-up hard. You have to relearn everything, and immersing yourself in a new culture is sometimes exhausting. And sometimes you just want to talk to someone who gets you and understands where you’re coming from. That’s why it’s important to find people to share your experience with.
There are online communities of ex-pats who might be in the same boat. Use search terms such as “Expats living in [insert your location]” or “black women living in [insert location].” You can also find other people to relate to at meet-ups and areas where ex-pats tend to congregate.
Although I wrote 9 Experiences You May Have As A Black Woman Traveling Overseas, know that you may not have any of the experiences listed in that article. Your experiences may be completely different. But I wrote it, so you can be armed with knowing that sometimes crazy, unexpected situations happen while you’re overseas. Some of your experiences might be downright awful…like you wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Others might be simply amazing.
If you find yourself in a situation where someone says something that’s utterly false and offensive, it okay to walk away. But if you can, use it as an educational opportunity. I know it might be upsetting, but by you just taking a moment to challenge their viewpoint, you can change the narrative.
For example, if someone tells you that you’re not American because of the way you look, you can share with them the history of the United States. Tell them about how the U.S. is a country of diversity and ethnic richness. Share your personal experiences about what it’s like to be a black American.
You may encounter people who stare, point, touch your hair, and take pictures of and with you. To be honest, you might feel like you’re an attraction at a zoo. Some people don’t want to have anything to do with it. That’s understandable. But, with safety taken into consideration, I argue don’t always avoid these people who are curious. If they want to take a picture or want to know about your hair, stop, and engage with them if you feel safe. Again these people may not have had much interaction with people that look like you. To me, it doesn’t make any sense to spend money traveling to a different country to supposedly learn about its culture, only to avoid its people.
7 Ways To Handle Culture Shock
9 Experiences You May Have As A Black Woman Traveling Overseas
Why Moving To Another Country May Not Result In Language Learning
How To Pack For Long Term Travel (Work Or Study Abroad)