On studying abroad

Photo of Justher in front of the Eiffel Tower
In front of the Eiffel Tower (Spring 2013)

This is a post about identity. It’s a bit complicated and I don’t know if I have all of the theoretical terms down, but maybe that’s the point.

My study abroad experience in France came to a close about two weeks ago. If you’re interested in reading about my experience, feel free to check out the blog I updated here:  http://iaufrance.weebly.com/justher.html

During my time abroad I ran across this blog post entitled “Race and Study Abroad,” written by a USC student who studied abroad in France. Then I followed the comments to another blog post by an Asian American student studying abroad. I was simultaneously touched and bothered by these posts; I was touched because they shared their experiences so openly and angered that these experiences had happened in the first place. But this was not new to me. After living in France for a couple of months, I had experienced more microaggressions (and some not-so-micro) than I was used to.

Needless to say, people calling out your Otherness? Pretty exhausting after a while. And dehumanizing to boot.

I alluded to this in my previous post, but it bears repeating: After all of these icky things happening again and again, it really just hurts and you want to find a way to make it stop – or just relieve some of the pain. And that’s when you seek out a community who gets it. Myself and a handful of Asian/Asian American students found solace in each other and it was so comforting to have that safe space to just talk freely about the nonsense we were dealing with. I think that sense of comfort and safety made it that much more difficult for me to step outside of that space. In other words, I knew I could trust the people in this group – I wasn’t sure I could say the same about everyone outside of it.

The biggest lessons I got out of my study abroad experience had nothing to do with conjugations or historical landmarks. Rather, they had to do with my identity and how others perceived me. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I blend in pretty well, almost to the point of fading into the background. I don’t get noticed much. France was a different story.

It took me a nine-hour time difference to realize that my face, my body, my gender, my identity as a whole does not exist in a neutral space. It took me an entire semester in Europe to realize the power that can be gained through community.

I’m hoping I can bring these lessons back to my own campus. I hope that I continue to grow. I hope this experience has changed me for the better.


2 thoughts on “On studying abroad

  1. Dear Justher,
    Wow I can’t believe anyone read and linked my post. I guess I should introduce myself, I am Eric, and I am the writer the Race and Study Abroad post. I received an email that my post was “pinged” here, so I decided to take a gander. Its fascinating to learn about your experience and reaction to racism. I had no other Asian Americans on my trip, and it was difficult to find that sense of community that you had mentioned in your post. Instead, I found myself looking internally with a real soul search of the meaning of these identities and why the experience even affected as profoundly as it did.

    Beyond the ignorant words and actions, I have come to find that racism assigned to me an identity that I had never really bargained for. I think similarly, Asian American may not have always been an identity you identified with while blending in San Francisco. I think its this coercion that causes the discomfort and reflection.

    Anyway, I hope you had a great trip, and I am glad that it has made you experience a greater profoundness of the world.

    Never stop wondering,

    1. Hi Eric! Thanks for following the “ping” over here… with the end of the year drawing near, I figured now was a good a time as ever to finally finish (and backdate) this blog post that has been in my drafts folder.

      I think that coercion that you described was definitely the spark that brought about my critical reflection. It’s hard for me to imagine having to do the searching on my own – it’s very admirable that you did that internally while in France. After coming back, I found that, for the handful of people I confided in about the experience, very few people truly understood what those racist encounters meant. Because of this, I found that my friendship with my “support group” continued to endure months after the trip had ended.

      But (as you undoubtedly already know), the whole identity formation thing is a process. I still seek (and have yet to find) community in a place that doesn’t seem to view my race/ethnicity as an “issue.” In some sort of strange way, my study abroad experience has made me crave those difficult discussions – mainly because I now know the strength that can come out of it.

      When I first read your post, I had about a month left of my study abroad experience. As I mentioned in my own blog, I was strangely comforted to learn that my friends and I were not alone in experiencing these instances of racism, but again angered that they happened at all. Since returning to the states, I hope you’ve found your community. In either case, I hope you know that your voice was heard – and appreciated.

      Anyway. That was a longer response than I had anticipated giving you. Thanks for responding to my post. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. Here’s to hoping 2014 brings more enriching experiences.

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