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.