One of the most rewarding experiences that students can have while an undergrad is participating a study abroad program. An international education is not only marketable for future career prospects; it also gives you greater insight on the dynamics of the global network. Even though we are the group to benefit the most from international experiences, African American students have the lowest participation rates in study abroad programs due to a number of factors. If you are doubting whether or not you should embark on this incredible life journey, read on to see the incredible experience of Emory senior Joseph Welcome who is studying in the Salamanca, Spain program.
Black Star Magazine: What made you decide to study abroad and how did you choose Spain?
Joseph Welcome: I have always been interested in people, places and cultures different from my own. Coming into college, I knew I wanted an international experience. As an International Studies major, I also thought this opportunity would be a perfect experience to complement my degree. Originally, I was thinking about studying in Argentina, but the required Spanish level was high and it was not the type of exchange program I was looking for. I was looking for a program with more of a cultural/immersion component. The Salamanca program in Spain is perfect because I am living with a host family, going on cultural excursions throughout Spain and within the city of Salamanca itself, and I have been able to make friends in Spain who have helped me improve my Spanish language skills immensely.
BSM: How have you been able to balance academics and living in an exciting foreign country?
JW: I think I have been able to balance everything pretty well. In Spain I am in class for hours upon hours, but I am not given as much work to do outside of class. I think that is the main trade-off for my program.
BSM: Describe your biggest revelation about life outside of the States.
JW: For me, the biggest revelation is how easy it is to travel throughout the country, cities, and Europe in general. Public transportation and infrastructure in Europe is amazing compared to the United States! I can easily take the Metro in and around cities and there is no need for a car at all. There are also high-speed trains that can take you from one city to the next in half the amount of time it would normally take to get there via car or a normal train. You cannot say that about most American cities where a car is necessary, due to the lack of public transportation options. There are a lot of options for public transportation in Spain and the rest of Europe.
BSM: What surprised you most about traveling abroad?
JW: Traveling abroad has made me realize how small the world really is. I have realized that Americans aren’t so different from other people in the world and we are all connected in one way or another through similar interests or through what makes us different.
BSM: Describe your weirdest travel experience.
JW: I think my weirdest travel experience so far has to be when I went to Ibiza, an island off the coast of Spain. Since we were on an island, one afternoon my friends and I decided to go to the beach. When we arrived, we saw kids playing in the sand naked, women topless, and most men in speedos or a few baring it all. This was not a nude beach. This was the first time we all went to a beach outside of the United States and it was interesting to learn that a lot of people are very comfortable with their bodies here and these things are not taboo like it would be back home in the States.
BSM: Do you think your study abroad experience has led you to a broader, more cultured perspective?
JW: I definitely believe my study abroad experience has allowed me to become more self-aware of who I am as a person and has reemphasized some of my interests and goals personally, professionally, and academically. I feel every student should study abroad if given the chance. It will be one of the best decisions you ever make!
BSM: What has been your favorite place that you have travelled to while abroad?
JW: Sevilla (Seville), the capital of Andalucía (region in Spain’s southern coast), is my favorite city I have traveled to so far. I think this city and region embodies what most of the world would think of as Spanish: tapas, bullfighting, tons of sun, and flamenco. It is a beautiful area with amazing monasteries, palaces, and architecture different from the rest of Spain due to its Moorish roots (Arabs ruled this area from the 8th until the 15th century). For these reasons, it has a different vibe from the rest of the country. Sevilla has some of the best tapas I have ever tasted and there are not too many tourists crowding the streets. Sevilla is a fascinating city with a lot to offer!
BSM: How would you describe your experience as an African American traveling abroad?
JW: From my perspective, my experience as an African-American traveling abroad has been mostly positive so far. First off, people do not see you as “African-American.” People see you as an American first and foremost before anything else. A lot of Spaniards and other Europeans can tell that I am not fully “African” by the shade of my skin and even by some of my facial features. When I first arrived in Madrid, I went to a tapas bar near my hotel to get something to eat. The bartender was from Senegal and he told me that he could tell from my facial features and accent that I was not directly from Africa or was someone of African descent from the UK. Some Africans and Afro-Latinos in Salamanca thought I was from the Dominican Republic at first because of the shade of my skin, but many could tell right away from my accent that I was American. Don’t be alarmed if some people stare, too. It is not out of rudeness, but out of curiosity. People are trying to figure you out. They know you’re not straight from Africa, but you have some African features, so many are thinking, “Where are you from? What race are you? Are you mixed with something?” As a matter of fact, tons of people in Europe have welcomed my American identity with open arms, despite their positive or negative opinion of the United States. Overall, during my semester here in Salamanca I have experienced the least amount of racism and/or discrimination I have ever experienced in my entire life. Students of African descent who are considering traveling abroad remember: if you can survive being black in the United States you will be just fine abroad.
For more of Joseph's travel adventures, check out his study abroad blog here!
Charity Gates, Digital Content Director