At Home… So Far Away From Home

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 first post is by API Granada alumna Sarah Webb.

Eating it up in Spain!

Have you ever felt comfortable in your own skin? For most people this question is a rhetorical one because it is a no-brainer. “Of course” most people would instantly respond, but for me the question is a little more complex. I didn’t know just how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin until I felt completely comfortable in my skin. The four months I spent studying abroad in Spain and traveling through Europe was unlike any other time in my life, and I will never be the same person as a result. Naturally, people of all cultures construct beliefs and opinions regarding others; whether they are founded or unfounded, these pre-conceived notions often manifest themselves as stereotypical judgments. For this reason I found my time abroad to be tremendously refreshing.

As a Black female in America, people often see my skin color before they see me. However, in Spain I felt as though every new encounter allowed me to start with a clean slate; a slate that I could shade according to my own colorful and rich beliefs. It was incredible to be evaluated on the basis of my colorful opinions rather than being subjected to the judgments that are often associated with the shade of my ebony skin. And while I personally never experienced any type of prejudice in Spain firsthand, I was well aware that it existed there like it does all over the world. I made an effort to familiarize myself with Spain’s history and knew its struggles with immigration and understood the possible effects it could have on me personally. Despite that, for the first time in my life I felt as though I was on a balanced playing field with my peers. As a black woman I was able to shift my concentration from overcoming racial stereotypes to overcoming obstacles like language and cultural barriers. At times I was still met with the occasional anti-American sentiment but I found that my previous cultural experiences living as a Black woman in the rural Mid-west equipped me with the tools necessary to counter these negative perceptions.

My life in the U.S.A. essentially primed me to be bi-cultural. The community that I grew up in appeared to be a model American town made up of less than 3,000 residents. Ninety-eight percent were blue collar, white, Christian families; my family wasn’t one of those. As time passed my family began to settle in and form more lasting relationships with various families within the community, but our time in the rural west was not all granola bars and mountain sunsets. A select few members in town were not pleased with any deviation from the standard (the other 2%), and chose not to welcome us. This group in town had strong affiliations with the Klu Klux Klan and made us very aware of their membership ties. Growing up, I constantly found myself readjusting my ideals and values to be more aligned with those of the predominant White Americana culture of the Midwest; all while maintaining a sense of self within the Black community and cultural lifestyle.

Having the opportunity to experience daily life in an environment less divided by racial issues has made me all the more dedicated to breaking down stereotypes now that I have returned to my home country. While abroad, I was able to explore and express my beliefs, values, and self unlike ever before. I, like many other students, returned home with a newly acquired self-awareness and a deeper understanding of the world around me.

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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Comments

  1. Marye Mathis Smith says

    Sarah,
    As I read your story I could relate very well to the segment on “My life in the U.S.A. essentially primed me to be bi-cultural.” I grew up in the deep rural south, five sisters and one brother, reared by a single mom. I was among the first students to integrate in my small town. I learned quickly to immerse myself in the dominate culture and willingly become an assimilationist. This was an act of survival!

    When I went off to college I purposefully attended a predominantly Black college. There I learned my own culture and what it was to be proud to be an African-American female. By the time I started my masters I was well informed of the differences in the cultures, but most importantly, I knew who I was and what I wanted; therefore, I was able to operate—with confidence—in an environment of diversity of cultures, races, abilities etc., with confidence. I do think this would have been possible had I not learned to feel good in my own “skin.”
    You also stated that you were aware of other barriers; however, you were able to make the adjustments needed in order to get the most out of the experience. I suppose there will always be differences whether nationally or locally, but what I got form your experience was that it is up to us how we will respond to those occurrences, and how and if we will embrace them as we continue our endeavors to grow personally and professionally.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Marye

  2. This is such an amazing post and I love the idea behind the series. I especially liked the phrase Sarah used about how being “in Spain I felt as though every new encounter allowed me to start with a clean slate; a slate that I could shade according to my own colorful and rich beliefs…” was powerful and eye-opening. Yet another testament to how meaningful travel can change our perspective and enhance our understanding of the world around us–and perhaps even change it, just as Sarah proves with her experiences and actions.

  3. This is an great inspirational blog entry. I feel that it makes one question the current situation they maybe going through and gives them hope that there is a better place out there if they only explore. My study abroad had a drastic change on my view of racism and stereotypes, while there I wanted to to disprove any negative stereotypes people had about African American males by simply being myself. When I came back to the states I began focusing less on how someone else defined me and more on how I defined myself. Thanks for the share.

    Best regards

    Ashlin

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