When I think about studying abroad, I think about all of the positives that could come out of such an experience, but I never really take the time to understand how myself and others could be viewed and treated as foreigners. In a study conducted by Brown University where students returning from short term and long term study abroad trips were surveyed about their experience, diversity issues were discussed. Some diversity issues that stood out to me are minority/majority issues, race and ethnicity, nationality, and gender.
In America, White-Americans dominate the racial majority, while Africans Americans take the place of the largest ethnic minority. What I noticed in some of the white-American student surveys was that many of them for the first time experienced what it felt like to be a minority while studying abroad. For example, the White-American students who had traveled to countries in Africa had experiences that made them uncomfortable and reminded them they were white, which is a fundamental concept of being a minority; however, most of them did not experience modes of discrimination or prejudice. This is interesting because being an African American in an African country, according to one of the students, would have been far worse. African American and African cultures are entirely different because African Americans are seen to be whitewashed or westernized. Being an African-American in general means you have it hard wherever you go and that you are a minority all the time. I can testify to this based on my time in Russia. Although there was a significant amount of African people who lived there, I instantly stood out, attracted unwanted attention, and was treated differently.
This brings me to my second point: nationality. According to the students, as an American, we are perceived as more socioeconomically well off than most people around the world. No matter if one is dirt poor or filthy rich, he or she is put into the same category of an abundance of wealth. That being said, many of the study abroad students were scorned upon and taken advantage of, especially in countries in Eastern Europe. While I was in Russia, for example, I experienced almost being overcharged at a local market because the vendor overheard me speak English and tried to exploit me. It’s interesting to think that although each of us in America has certain problems financially, we are perceived to still be able to live well enough than most people around the world.
The last diversity issue that did not surprise me is gender inequality-this concept was seen around the globe with many of the female study abroad students. Gender inequality is universal and is subjected to no boundaries. For example, a female student in Cuba was hindered from participating in an athletic activity with the male students, while thousands of miles of away in France, a female student was harassed from men in her environment. Women receive little protection everywhere.
These key themes stood out to me because I have never really thought of there being other people who have experienced similar issues that people of color experience on a daily basis. I now understand that diversity issues are not tied to a single group of people but can affect everyone in some shape or form.