Sticks and Stones

Colorblind – A glimpse into race in the U.S. and abroad is a new API blog series that looks at racial issues and concerns faced by API students and staff abroad. This post is by API Granada alumna Sarah Webb.

Sarah and friend

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” As a young woman with four brothers, sticks were often a major element in games and reenactments we engaged in while playing as children. These sticks were used as swords to pierce an enemy knight’s armor, to infiltrate anthills, and even to jab a younger sibling when our mother’s back was turned. However, as I grew older I realized that sticks could still be used to wound opponents, but instead of sticks from trees people used words and actions to strike others.

The nursery school expression sticks and stones is often taught to young children as a response when being teased or ridiculed but we all know that words can in fact hurt. Not only can words hurt, but nonverbal communication like stares and body language can also offend and upset people as well. As a participant on a study abroad program in a new host country many things may seem exotic and feel alien to you initially. Nonetheless, it is important to explore your host country with a tolerant and respectful mindset. It won’t take very long for you to recognize how unfamiliar you may be with the language, culture, cuisine, and even people of your host country. Equally, citizens of your host country may be unfamiliar with your culture, language, and even race (ethnicity); especially if you are a racial minority.

As a racial minority you may have a different perspective of what it means to be an American and that will undoubtedly influence how you see yourself and others. However, depending on the racial make-up of your host country, you may find that you are actually in the majority, a minority, or not even represented in the racial make-up of your host country. As a foreigner in a host country you will probably stand out in some ways and one of those ways may be because of your race. You may encounter stares and even be subjected to people’s comments. These remarks and stares may be a simple and an innocent result of intrigue, but they can also stem from perceived stereotypes, discrimination, or even prejudice. It can be difficult to deal or respond to racism whether it’s in your home country or your host country, but it may be necessary. Depending on the situation you may choose to ignore the incident or you may choose to react. Sometimes responding to racism or prejudice can be a learning experience for both you and your counterpart. Many times discrimination, racism, and stereotypes are a result of ignorance. Countless components like ethnicity, personal background, and even previous social interactions influence people’s perceptions and judgments. However, as a study abroad participant you may have the opportunity to educate someone or even change their perception for the better. It can be difficult to tolerate people’s wounds from non-physical sticks, but it may allow you to overturn a stone cold judgment or stereotypes with your knowledgeable words.

Sarah Webb studied with API in Granada while a student at Kansas State University. Upon her return from Spain she served as an API Peer Mentor before joining the API Texas staff first as an intern, then as a Program Assistant/Program Manager. Sarah’s latest adventure will take her back to Spain to teach to elementary school children near Zaragoza. Check back for future posts!

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