What it is Like to Be a “Minority” Abroad

My roommate Sonam Tshering took a portrait picture of me and edited it. He is a photographer/tour guide and fly fisher!

My roommate Sonam Tshering took a portrait picture of me and edited it. He is a photographer/tour guide and fly fisher!

I recently took a course on prejudice, micro-aggressions, and white privilege. It truly changed the way I look at the world on a daily basis. When I see people unaware of their privilege it shocks me.

Privilege – as my professor taught me – is like an invisible backpack, which has tools or passes to experience life with many different kinds of advantages others do not have (it’s like having Monopoly’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card at all times in real life). For example, when a white person walks into a room, most likely people automatically add value to that identity because with white skin there is an association of money, power and goodness. When I walk into a room those associations do not follow.

I only experience privilege in Bhutan when I am identified as a tourist because according to my friends and locals I look Nepali, Muslim or Bhutanese (Latinos are like unicorns here so that is not even a suggestion).  I have even had people come up to me and speak Dzongkha or Nepali in town.

When I do experience privilege I shun it because I know that is not real. Privilege creates a bubble of a fake reality (thank god I am with API on a college campus and not a tourist bus all day). When people witness a person with privilege shunning it away the respect received is amazing. For example, I wear my Gho just about every day to class (foreigners do not have to wear it while the Bhutanese students do). When I told one of my Bhutanese friends at the beginning of the semester that I panned to wear it everyday just like him, his eyes lit up like a deer staring at headlights. We have been close friends ever since!

My friend Kezang Wangchuk and I taking a selfie. He is the deer I mentioned earlier.

My friend Kezang Wangchuk and I taking a selfie. He is the deer I mentioned earlier.

Here is a list of a few privileges I can name off the top of my head:

  • When you walk into a place where there are no Bhutanese and mostly rich tourists = privilege
  • When you can decide not to wear the national wear = privilege
  • When tired laborers come to “help you” when they truly do not want to = privilege
  • When you are seen automatically as one of the top students in class = privilege
  • When you do not say “hi” or acknowledge janitors or those considered socially inferior in the fake societal hierarchy = privilege
  • When you think your input is more important than anyone else’s = privilege
  • When you take up more physical space in a place (males do this a lot) = privilege
  • When you get hitchhike rides 90% of the time you go out = privilege
  • When people do not question your beliefs, thought processes, actions etc. = privilege
  • When you are the loudest in the room = privilege
  • When you are white and say the “N” word because you are in another country or it is trendy now and “everyone says it why not me?” = Super Privilege
  • When you experience another country with only other foreigners with lavish comforts and say you experienced that county’s  “full immersion” = Super-Duper Privilege
Left to right: Ratan, Hussain, Sujan, and Ranjan (he taught me how to make Puri!). They are the physical laborers who build RTC. They give Razzan and I a lot of respect because we always say hello while most people look away when they see them working.

Left to right: Ratan, Hussain, Sujan, and Ranjan (he taught me how to make Puri!). They are the physical laborers who build RTC. They give Razzan and I a lot of respect because we always say hello while most people look away when they see them working.

One of my friends Amir, told me people do not know where I am from because he has not seen another Latino in Bhutan. This brings me great pride to know I am different… to know that Razzan, a Palestinian woman, and I are the only international students of a different descent than white American. It makes us feel like we are bringing diversity, not only to API who brought us here, but also to the Bhutanese students and the view they have of Americans (the media is full of white America everywhere you look).  This is what Razzan has to say about her experience.

“The ability for the two of us to use our current privilege as tourists is not only a rare experience, but a liberating one. That is, this new and brief experience of privilege embodied by the two of us has motivated us to use that power to dismantle systems of oppression that we have seen around us; something rarely discussed with allies of privileged backgrounds.  Traveling miles away, leaving one’s comfort zone, illuminates possibilities of growth, development, and deconstruction.”

Razzan and I taking a selfie at the Paro Dzong.

Razzan and I taking a selfie at the Paro Dzong.

My personal conversations with many of the students here show me they truly appreciate the difference. When I speak Spanish or dance bachata (look it up on youtube!) their curiosity spins wildly with questions and excitement.

Diversity is necessary for study abroad programs. It is tough for a minority study abroad, as there are many obstacles stopping us from having such dramatic experiences. To any minority reading this, look at my experience – the only thing really stopping you is yourself. The negative stereotypes given to our groups are not real… you have to do what you have to do get what you want. Put in more hours than everyone else, write more scholarship papers than anyone else, and want it more than anyone else. With time what you desire will come. One thing minorities possess is an insane work ethic when they are placed in the right places.

People need to always observe, reflect, and analyze themselves in order to know what kind of impact they impose on the world without even saying a word. Get familiar with your privilege and take action to SEE the REAL world and FEEL your REAL study abroad EXPERIENCE. You must know who you are when you walk into a room or country.

As a proud Latino who has had an amazing study abroad experience, I am here speaking to those other minority groups that need encouragement to make dreams happen. If this post doesn’t encourage you to make dreams come true add me on Facebook (Benjamin Concepcion) and message me or comment below with any questions or clarification.

The gang who built a mud wall for a nunnery during the API giveback day organized by Deki. THIS is diversity.

The gang who built a mud wall for a nunnery during the API giveback day organized by Deki. THIS is diversity.

Benjamin Concepcion is a student at the University of Rhode Island and an official API student blogger. Benjamin is currently studying abroad with API in Thimphu, Bhutan.

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Comments

  1. Chelsea Kindred says:

    I admire Benjamin’s honesty, tenacity, and frank discussion of issues we typically speak around (and not directly to) in our field of education abroad. I am proud of API for sharing Benjamin’s words and introducing a much-needed voice to our field!

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