Today, African-American students have many reasons to study around the globe, but unfortunately no place is perfectly free of ignorance, racism or discrimination. Just like at home in the U.S., you may find various levels of acceptance by some people and discrimination by others while abroad. African-American students should be aware that these problems do exist in various degrees in other countries, but this should not prevent you from traveling. There may actually be opportunities for you to be a positive influence on those you meet. You should feel free to travel to your places of interest (unless there is a civil unrest that may affect your safety. Please research your destination thoroughly before you travel. You can start with the U.S. Department of State’s travel warnings at www.state.gov/travel). Many students have entirely positive experiences when exploring their roots or exploring another culture.

One of the biggest challenges African-American students face in studying abroad is the curiosity factor. Black students in predominantly Caucasian or Asian countries report that they may be the subject of prolonged stares. People may even want to touch their hair and skin because it looks different from their own. In American society, this kind of behavior would be seen as inappropriate and rude. However, the countries where this is an issue for Black students are usually homogenous countries. The people they encounter may have never seen a Black person except on television and may simply curious.

Living in another country can also be liberating. African-American study abroad returnees often report another interesting experience: Many who travel to countries in Africa are often surprised that Africans see them not as African-Americans, but simply as Americans. This is also often the case in countries with a sizeable Black population, such as Brazil. Students have reported that it is particularly interesting how they, as African-Americans, are sometimes not subjected to the same discrimination that Black citizens of Brazil or South Africa deal with on a daily basis. Studying abroad can certainly give you rare and unique opportunities to examine discrimination (or lack thereof) in different contexts.

Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells are two prominent African Americans who traveled abroad to educate others of the African American experience in the late 1800’s. They were welcomed with open arms everywhere except for their own country. Today, we live in a more culturally accepting world than they did, but discrimination and racism still exist. You may encounter a few ignorant people, but think about the courage that Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass had to travel to foreign countries. This may be a great opportunity for you to be both a student and teacher of cultural understanding in this infinitely diverse world.