Aladrianne Young, founder of Connect-Me-Abroad, poses at her Peace Corps swear-in in South Africa.
As an undergraduate student at Mount Holyoke College, I studied abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. This was my first time outside of the United States, and it was truly transformative for me.
Studying abroad in England taught me that there are so many valuable opportunities beyond our American borders. While at Sussex, I took a class called “American Cities: New Orleans” in which we discussed topics ranging from the French origins of NOLA to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was refreshing to hear the perspectives of my British classmates as they openly addressed American racism. I felt that these discussions would have been much more taboo in an American classroom. I also found that British people were more interested in my identity as an American rather than as a Black American. Among others, these experiences inspired me to explore more and tell the stories of other student travelers who looked like me.
But there weren’t many of us. According to NAFSA: Association of Foreign Student Advisors, only 6 percent of Black students studied abroad between 2014 and 2015, while nearly 73 percent of students who identified as Caucasian did. This disparity alarmed me. Over time, I found that many Black students wished that there were more resources for them as they traveled abroad. They yearned to feel less alone.
That’s why I launched Connect-Me-Abroad, a site that shares the international experiences of people of color (POC) who spend an extended time abroad, whether through study abroad, teach abroad, or intern abroad programs. I hope that these stories will help create awareness of POC’s unique experiences traveling abroad – and inspire others to follow suit.
Here are some reasons why you should consider traveling abroad:
A month before I graduated from Mount Holyoke, I was accepted into a summer internship program that allowed me to spend a little over four weeks in Japan to participate in a Girls Empowerment English teaching program for junior high and high school students. I was a group leader, along with other American students, and the program required us to stay with a new host family each week. My families lived in Takasaki, Yokohama, Tokyo, and Toyota. Being introverted, this experience definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone (especially given the fact that I don’t speak Japanese). I learned to give myself credit for my ability to adapt to and be flexible in new situations, whether in the classroom, with homestay families, or traveling through the country. This experience helped me realize how interested I am in learning from people of different cultures.
Being in a new country with new norms and culture forces you to constantly reflect on your own identity. While traveling, I develop a stronger sense of self. The intersectionality of my identity as a Black American woman in a foreign context encourages me to explore what Blackness means abroad, my privilege as an American traveler, and how gender influences my experience. Traveling provides tools for soul searching and introspection, which I believe leads to greater self-awareness and confidence.
One of my favorite memories from studying abroad was playing basketball at my university. My teammates were all from different countries across Europe, Asia, and North America. I still keep in touch with them via Facebook, and I enjoy staying in contact with other friends, families, professors, students and classmates I’ve met during my travels.
I recently decided to join the Peace Corps because exploring public health, wellbeing, and new cultures is important to me. As a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa, I'm part of the Community HIV Outreach Project, where I assist with promoting HIV prevention through work with women, orphans and vulnerable youth, and people living with HIV. I’m looking forward to connecting with the people in my community, learning from them, and sharing my culture with them as well. And, of course, I’m very excited to return to the motherland! I’m also eager to see how my Peace Corps service will shape my career goals.
Images courtesy of Aladrianne Young.