A Brave New World

Never in my early imaginings of Italy did I foresee a Zen experience. In a country known for loud, gesticulating talkers, cussing, reckless drivers, and droves of chatty American tourists, I didn’t anticipate a space for quiet or introspection. And I was perfectly happy with that.

A textbook extrovert, I’ve always hated being alone. Other people give me energy and life, whereas alone, I tend to get trapped in my own head, to spiral downwards into an abyss of negative thoughts and memories. The older I’ve gotten, the more insistently I seek out company out of fear of silence. At school, I’m nearly never alone, surrounding myself with people whenever I eat, study, or do extracurriculars. I call people on my walks to and from class, I’m in constant contact with my friends throughout the day, I even take short showers to avoid the quiet.

Before I left for Florence, my friend told me that his favorite and most rewarding parts of study abroad were those when he travelled alone. He regaled me with tales of getting lost in the crooked backstreets of Germany and Iceland, of wandering into careworn pubs or beautiful gardens, of forming spontaneous, childlike friendships with locals and travellers alike. He told me that the only way to truly know yourself is to put time and effort into the relationship.

As hard as I’ve tried to brush off those sage words throughout my time here, they’ve stubbornly stuck in that steel-trap brain of mine. Now, with the semester winding down, there’s less to do. I secured my dream internship, finished all my final papers, and read nearly every book in the tiny English section at the local library. So, I decided, as a final hurrah, to get to know Florence on a personal basis.

Every day, I run the six miles down from our golden Villa on the hills to the Duomo, the gorgeous landmark in the heart of the city, to the soundtrack of NPR’s This American Life or Serial. From there, I go on mini Kate adventures. One day, I went to All’Antico Vinaio, Florence’s best Panini shop. Unfortunately, it’s a badly kept secret, and tourists formed lines miles long, clutching guidebooks and oversized water bottles. My face dropped as I took in the spectacle. Waiting two hours for a sandwich, when the line had been nonexistent just two weeks before, felt absurdly touristy to me, a hardened and sophisticated pseudo-Florentine.

As I was contemplating biting the bullet and getting a substandard Panini at the place next door, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A guy with a University of Florence sweatshirt had broken off from his group of his friends towards the front of the line. He asked me if I wanted him to order me a sandwich, rolling his eyes in characteristic Florentine disdain at the bumbling tourists who’d invaded his city. Five minutes later, I emerged triumphantly with my prosciutto, pecorino, and truffle sauce sandwich, buoyed by my new Italian friends and unexpected good fortune.

Another day, I decided to tack on a couple more miles and run to Gusta Pizza, the acclaimed Neapolitan pizzeria adjacent to the Ponto Vecchio. As usual, it was packed. Impatient customers waved their little white deli slips like flags of surrender, demanding tables and citing the many minutes they’d already had to wait. I got to the front of the line and asked the beleaguered cashier for a margherita pizza to go. He looked exhausted and completely overwhelmed. A pang of compassion shot through me, and I asked him how his day was going. After we chatted for a few minutes, he took a surreptitious look around and grabbed a newly completed pizza from the rack. Slipping it to me, he winked as he called out the next number, a full twenty digits from my own. I left the shop smiling and absolutely starving. Cracking the pizza box, I saw that he’d given me one baked in the shape of a heart.

These stories probably sound like little more than a series of vignettes in which nice Italians help me jump lines. But they’re also personal triumphs. In the few weeks I’ve been doing this, I’ve finally encountered and befriended actual locals, breaking out of the wonderful but completely insular community at the Villa. I’ve given tourists directions and taken special shortcuts, finally feeling like I belong in this city. I’ve had the time to reflect on myself, my life, and my semester here, as I walk down uneven streets peppered with leather vendors and artists.

I come back from these runs centered, calm, and usually well-fed. Italy has given me a newfound appreciation of silence, a joy in wandering its streets and drinking in the springtime air perfumed with wisteria and honeysuckle. I’ve been able to let go of that pervasive anxiety and default replaying of bad memories and weighty to-do lists that used to occupy my mind when I wasn’t cramming it with social interaction and constant stimulation. I run. I eat. I make a friend. I wander. It’s a freedom unlike any I’ve ever experienced before, and it’s put me on much closer terms with a person I’d been neglecting for months – myself.

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“Purple Rain” in Cape Town

Prince often graced my mother’s car radio as she took me to school every morning during my elementary, middle, and high school years. He was also played on the way home from school. For the months that any given Prince cd resided in the stereo, you better believed I started to memorize the words to songs like “When Doves Cry,” “1999,” “Musicology,” and other jams by Prince. Yep, my mother loved Prince and a love for him fostered within me. When I started Georgetown University, I continued the tradition of intertwining the presence of Prince with my education. I definitely listened to my Prince playlist on Spotify (before he removed all of his songs) as I cranked out papers for midterms and finals. I even listened to Prince a few times here in Cape Town because it reminded me of those car rides to school, scents of my mother’s perfume, and the years that have gone by.

Needless to say, my heart dropped when I found out the news of his passing. Ever since then, I have been reading articles about his life and watching countless videos of his performances. He defied sexist and racist gender expectations placed on Black male bodies. Heteronormativity could not touch him, his music, his hair, or his timeless threads. In an interview, Prince said that his father used to play the piano and would not let him play that piano because his father believed that younger Prince was not as good as him. However, after his father left, 9-year-old Prince played that piano and taught himself how to “play music.” How many 9-years-olds can say that? Later down the road in the 80s, he produced one album per year. How many musicians can top that? He definitely showed the world what hard work and consistency looks like. He represented the grind that if any of us tapped into, we could all reach our own level of genius, like Prince.

Sidenote: to call him the “King of Shade” is only to touch on one aspect of the man. He was much more than his facial expressions. He honored us with his music and in return we should honor this artist, who mastered all of the instruments in his band, who wrote all of the songs he sang, and who self-produced while producing other artists’ music. I honestly do not think there will be another musician like him.

His death reminds me of the quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson.

This quote, like Prince, is timeless. If anything, Prince taught us not to die mediocre.

Thank you Prince, for your music, your life, and your international legacy, which highlights your genius that my words cannot encompass. Thank you for being unapologetically Black and rocking your afro, for always melanizing on stage during every performance, for the time you wrote “slave” on your face, and for the track “Baltimore.” I needed the healing you placed in that song.

 

 

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Spain has no government—but not because of the anarchists

The unprecedented series of events occurring in the U.S. presidential election cycle has sparked international interest (and concern) and a total saturation of the domestic media, so it’s easy to forget that the U.S. isn’t the only western democracy undergoing a tumultuous political transition. To wit, Spain has been without a government since the general election of December 2015. Spain has had two consistently successful parties, PP on the right and PSOE on the left, since its transition to democracy in the 1970s, but the recent election showed results fractured between four major parties and many small ones. At a time when both the Republican and Democratic parties are facing respective identity crises that could potentially lead to their own demises, it’s worth exploring how another dual-party system can suddenly become one of multiple parties.

Throughout the majority of 2015, Spain was in the midst of political campaigns of some form or another for the separate municipal, regional, and general elections. These elections were contextualized by two distinct elements: a persistent economic crisis and a series of political corruption scandals in both of the major parties. The economic crisis began in 2008 when PSOE controlled the Congress of Deputies, a situation that lead to a landslide victory for the PP in 2011. Despite this, the past 4 years of austerity measures from the government of Mariano Rajoy have not lead to much improvement, and as such both PSOE and PP entered the 2015 election cycle perceived as equally responsible for the dire state of the economy.

This crisis, coupled with years of corruption scandals in both parties (most notably in the recent arrest of over 20 PP officials in the region of Valencia), caused voters to call into question the legitimacy of the parties in their capacity to represent the interests of the people and to doubt the efficacy of what amounted to a two party system. With the popularity of PP and PSOE at record lows, new left-wing party Podemos and the nationally expanded center-right party Ciudadanos to pick up significant support in the regional and municipal elections.

This success continued into the general elections in December with the result of no party having secured a majority of seats in the Congress and preventing any of them from governing alone. Although this was the likely outcome of such a fractured electorate, the history of a two-party system has made all four players ill suited to the style of politics that coalition building necessitates, and thus the Prime Minister’s chair sits empty. In March a pact was formed between PSOE and Ciudadanos with PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez as the Prime Ministerial candidate, but even together they failed to secure 50% of the vote. The measure was firmly opposed by the remaining parties and here Spain stands, without a government, four months after the election.

If a coalition isn’t formed soon, the state may have to resort to new elections in June, although this “solution” would only be the beginning of a new set of problems. The exorbitant cost of such a venture would not even guarantee any major change from the initial results, a prospect that would leave the country back where it started in December. For all the moaning across the internet about how corrupt and rigged the American electoral system is, at least we are able to depend on the levers of the constitution to provide us with a President by next January, for better or worse. Like Sanders and Trump, the alternative voices of Podemos and Ciudadanos rose from the mobilization of passionate voters dissatisfied with the status quo.  Unfortunately, an increased plurality in the Spanish system has merely highlighted the deep political divisions in this country and the incapacity of the current political structure to encourage compromise. As a result, democracy has come to a crashing halt.

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Cherry Blossoms and Tomb Sweeping

It’s hard to believe midterms and spring break are already behind us, and there are only 4 more weeks of class ahead. I got so used to my routine at school, made friends I enjoy working with at my internship, and really built something I could call a home in the chaos that is this city. As I was flying back to Beijing after my recent trip to Vietnam, I decided to make the best of the next month and meet new friends outside of my established circles.

Luckily, an opportunity arrived fast when my Chinese marketing professor decided to invite a couple of his foreign students to audit his Chinese marketing class (which is more like an English class for Chinese business students). After overcoming the awkwardness of standing in front of 50 students who greeted us with an unnecessarily long applause, we sat down and answered all the questions they had about America and our lives abroad. It was clear that most of their knowledge about the states came from government propaganda or movies (even though there is a quota on the number of Western films legally allowed in the country), and questions ranged from “do you have huge backyards?” to “do you go clubbing every night and eat pizza for every meal?” At the end of the session, we got to ask them a few questions of our own. Apparently, taking a girl out to Pizza Hut is considered a decent date option (Pizza Hut is actually quite fancy in China), most students would prefer going abroad for grad school, and none of them misses their days of studying for the Chinese college entrance exam (the infamous Gaokao高考). After the session, we all exchanged WeChats (the app that does practically everything in this country), and I immediately received 10 messages from students who just want to hang out and practice their English. This impromptu cultural exchange got me thinking about the preconceptions I had about China before coming here, and how ridiculous some of them seem to me now. Students at my university have been nothing but kind and helpful, and it is amazing how easily you can make friends here.

In other news, spring is finally here, which means we’ve officially survived one of Beijing’s coldest winters. I didn’t even have time to miss spring in DC because just when everyone was posting photos of the cherry blossoms, the cherry and apricot trees began to blossom here too. It might not be the Tidal Basin, but celebrating spring in the Forbidden City is pretty awesome too. The first week of spring is also when Qingming 清明节 festival, or the Tomb Sweeping Day takes place. It is the second largest festival after the Chinese New Year, and one of the most interesting traditions China has managed to preserve. It is a time of both joy and mourning, and you are meant to both enjoy walks in the park and flying kites, as well as commemorate those who have passed away by sweeping their tomb, burning (fake) money and bringing offerings to the cemetery. As modern days change the way people perceive wealth, some also burn paper models of houses and cars to ensure their loved ones won’t miss a thing in the afterlife. It was an interesting time to be in China and experience first-hand a festival I’ve heard so much about.

That’s it for this month’s adventures, but there is more to come from our visit to the Great Wall, my weekend of solo traveling in South Korea, and our final week of class.

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Being an African American in Africa: “What are you?”

Disclaimers

1) The question, “What are you?” is objectifying. If the goal is to find out a person’s heritage, the more proper question to ask is “How do you identify?”

2) Every African American’s experience in Cape Town, South Africa is different. I am not speaking for all African Americans in this blog post.

When I first inquired about studying abroad in Cape Town, I was told that this place is characterized by race relations that are starkly different from what I experience in the United States as an African American. In Cape Town, the main racial categories originating from the apartheid era are Black African, Coloured, White, and Indian. I was also told that people may categorize me as a Coloured South African due to my light skin complexion. Thus I anticipated to experience a somewhat chameleon effect when I came here. However, this was not the case.

When I first arrived, people STARED. This staring was so noticeable that the colleagues in my program asked me if I knew why people were staring. I always answered that I didn’t know why people were staring at me. I only assumed that it was because my Blackness seemed foreign to them (not from South Africa or the Continent), thus they could not guess my origins or it could have been for reasons of attraction. I lean more towards the former than the latter.

At my school, University of the Western Cape, people stared, but some took it a step further and asked me, “What are you?” Sometimes I was hesitant to answer. When I did answer, I said “African American” and then I saw them make the “oh, that makes sense” face. Other times out of curiosity I asked them, “What do you think I am?” Here were the answers I received: South African Coloured, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Zimbabwean, American or “I’m not sure, but not South African.” Some people could tell that I was American due to my accent, but without talking they would not have a clue.

Over time, I became aware of the fact that my facial features were extremely different from a native South African Coloured or Black African. My eyes, lips, nose, and face shape tell a particular history of Africa, Europe, and America. I am proud of this history and don’t mind sharing what I know because I discovered that I was the first African American woman that some South Africans have met. This does not surprise me because most people assume that Americans who come here are white. I tend to either confirm or crush the stereotypes of African Americans. Here are some stereotypes that I have come across: twerking, neck-rolling, fried chicken, watermelon, and Madea(a Tyler Perry movie character that represents the Mammy).

Needless to say, I live an interesting reality, as I am experiencing life as an African American in Africa, more specifically South Africa. At times there is this sense of distance given my American identity, but simultaneously, there is a strong sense of closeness given my Blackness. I have made it back to one part of the Motherland (a common term most African Americans use to refer to Africa given our ancestral history). My ancestors descended from enslaved Africans who originated from the West African region. I am intrigued to see how I am identified in those countries given their specific histories of colonialism and use of racial categories. Side note: after two months in Cape Town, I have made peace with the staring.

 

 

 

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#SomosPueblo

NO voy a firmar, ESO no es ÉTICO, scroll the Spanish subtitles along the bottom of a relatively cheesy ad that plays—and that we the captive audience watch—over and over again in the metro. The ad displays a man who is the CEO of a business in a conference room where he is asked to sign a corrupt contract with another company. The heads of the company tell him that signing this contract will make him rich, and if he doesn’t sign, they will simply conduct the same contract with another business. However, our virtuous CEO decides to make the ethical decision not to sign the contract. The next scene shows him celebrating his decision with his wife and two kids, then cuts to a white screen that says For a Transparent DR.

One thing that I have come to notice while being here, especially with the upcoming presidential elections that will take place in May, is Dominicans’ relative lack of confidence in their government. I have seen many cars zoom by with Yo no voto, todos son ladrones written across their back windows. As one presidential candidate was seen publicly visiting los campos on the national news, my friend’s host mom told her that that was the first time he had ever visited the rural areas of the Dominican Republic. A main cause of this lack of confidence comes from the copious amount of corruption that is associated with government and politics in this country.

Yesterday, thanks to the invitation of one of my Dominican friends, I attended una fiesta por la democracia, a celebration of democracy. The celebration included speakers who passionately argued for Dominicans’ right to government transparency and musicians who sang and busted anti-corruption beats. One of the main points of the event was to call into question the corruption of the incumbent president, Danilo Medina, who is running for reelection and whose campaign may be associated with dirty money linked to Joao Santana and the corruption scandal currently happening in Brazil. Speakers called upon the Dominican people, no matter what political party they support, to come together and demand transparency from their elected officials. They asked their fellow Dominicans to take to social media to spread the word and demand accountability: something that they feel has not been adequately covered in the mainstream media.

The organization that hosted the event, Somos Pueblo, has the ultimate aim of empowering the Dominican people and exposing injustice. While the right to vote could be a powerful tool that would show politicians that Dominicans will not stand for corruption, many Dominicans do not have enough confidence in its efficacy to utilize it. For politicians to be held accountable and for political change to occur, the people will have to demand it. Somos pueblo. We are the people. We have a voice. We have the power to change our society. This is the message that more and more Dominicans are coming to adopt. It will be interesting to see how anti-corruption efforts will affect the Medina administration in the upcoming elections and the wider political scene in the Dominican Republic in the near future.

Peace.Love.SomosPueblo

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Carnaval: Estilo Dominicano

In the Dominican Republic, Carnival is a festival that happens every Sunday in the month of February, culminating on the final Sunday that also serves as a celebration of el Día de la Independencia, 27 de febrero. This year, Independence Day fell on Saturday, so it was a packed weekend!

Carnival happens all over the island in many different cities and towns. Perhaps the biggest and most famous parade happens in the city of La Vega. My program and I chose to stay in Santo Domingo and go to Carnival down Maximo Gómez, one of the biggest streets in the capital.

Down the entire stretch of the road were barricades, bleachers to sit on, and vendors selling everything from temporary tattoos made with spray paint to Presidente, the beloved Dominican-made cerveza. Giant figurines lined the streets, as well as arches that proclaimed “Carnaval Santo Domingo 2016.” As afternoon turned into evening, the streets filled with people and the parade began.

One of the unfortunate repercussions of being female at Carnival is that you need to watch out for golpes. All the male characters dressed up in their vibrant costumes carry light, balloon-like balls on strings that they use to whip women from behind with as they walk by. Fortunately I wasn’t hit too many times, but the few times I felt the sting of one of the golpes I also felt my blood boil at the patriarchal, machista culture that allows these types of degrading occurrences.

The link between the last and biggest day of Carnival and Independence Day in the DR is no coincidence. It is interesting to note that the country that the DR is celebrating independence from on February 27th is actually Haiti, not Spain. Because of this, Independence Day is somewhat controversial. Some argue the holiday perpetuates anti-Haitianism and fails to recognize the real imperialist threats to the country propagated by Spain and the United States. Perhaps as a result, Independence Day becomes linked with and overshadowed by the festivities of Carnival. If you ask a Dominican what the big holiday in February is called, they will most likely say Carnival and not 27 de febrero.

I feel lucky to have been able to witness the parade and a key part of Dominican culture. I also feel lucky to have both peers and teachers here who challenge me to think about the day we are celebrating and the forces at work behind it.

Peace.Love.Carnaval

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Interning at la Fábrica Alta Gracia

One of the biggest reasons that I chose to come to the Dominican Republic was the chance to work with a local NGO for academic credit through a class offered by my CIEE program. Students in my class are interning with an extremely wide range of organizations, from an LGBTQ-focused public health organization to MLB baseball teams to local schools. Specifically, I was very excited for the chance to intern with the union at the Alta Gracia factory, a factory that makes t-shirts for U.S. colleges and universities and is considered revolutionary for its fair labor practices, including paying workers a living wage as well as granting access to a union, an on-site medical center, and opportunities for workers and their families to attend local universities. So far, I have found my internship with the factory both challenging and rewarding.

Back at Georgetown, one of my biggest involvements is with Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC), which is a non-hierarchical student group committed to holding Georgetown accountable to the Just Employment Policy and otherwise dedicated to workers’ rights and social justice issues both on campus and in the greater community. I joined GSC a year ago after my spring break trip Worker Justice DC through the Alternative Breaks Program on campus. Through these two amazing programs, I became interested in viewing my Georgetown major of International Political Economy through the lens of economic justice and solutions to inequality. For these reasons, finding out about the possibility to have an internship with one of the most unique factories in the world was a chance that I couldn’t pass up.

Initially, it was a challenge just finding enough time in my schedule to complete eight hours per week with the union, given that the factory is located about two hours away from Santo Domingo. What we have decided is that I will come on Wednesdays and Fridays for three hours each. On Wednesdays, I teach English to workers’ families and do two hours of class preparation at home.

My Wednesday English classes have proven to be my biggest challenge. Although I have some teaching experience with preschoolers through the Jumpstart AmeriCorps program, this is nowhere near enough for what the union has me doing. Additionally, I was given no materials or textbooks to conduct my classes with, so I normally prepare sessions with my lord and savior that is Google. Beyond this, my class is composed of people of various ages, from ten year olds to adults. Everyone speaks little to no English, and weekly attendance is spotty at best. With all of these factors, I am pretty pessimistic about the impact I am having. I am currently trying to acquire a textbook from a friend I have in the teach abroad program that is also sponsored by CIEE so that, when I leave, my students will at least have a way to do exercises and continue learning without me.

My biggest rewards from my internship come on Fridays, when I work on union tasks while at the factory. So far I have chatted with workers to learn about the factory and to establish relationships, polled workers on their biggest complaints with the factory (most common answer: old machinery), and taken photos for Alta Gracia to use on social media (like us on Facebook!).

Just being able to be at the factory and observe daily occurrences has also been interesting. A couple of weeks ago, the owner of Alta Gracia came down to Santo Domingo and had a meeting with workers, something that he does two to three times a year. The owner is a white, American man with a heavy southern accent. He talked with the workers about the importance of staying productive (high productivity is needed to counterbalance paying workers living wages) and asked for their input on what can be done to improve conditions.

While Alta Gracia has the best working conditions of any factory in the free trade zone, it has its limitations. As a U.S.-owned factory that is situated in the Dominican Republic to make clothes for U.S. colleges and universities, Alta Gracia in some ways perpetuates the idea that Latin American countries have comparative advantages in labor costs and therefore maintains the region’s economic dependency on the U.S. for industrialized goods.

Additionally, the factory is very small compared to its sweatshop counterparts, literally located right across the street that pay poverty-level wages and employ hundreds more workers. It is also very new, having only opened in 2010. Sometimes called the Alta Gracia Project, the factory will need to become profitable for its owners to keep it open in our capitalist system.

My time at Alta Gracia has been thought provoking. There are ways in which I think the factory could become more ethical, and there are reasons why I can see that some people might consider the factory to be too idealistic. Alta Gracia largely relies on student activism at colleges and universities to spread the word and buy its products. Workers occasionally go on tours to share the story of the factory that is fighting sweatshop labor. I am proud to say that Georgetown is one of the schools that supports Alta Gracia, and I hope to continue supporting the factory in any way I can back on the Hilltop when I return.

Peace.Love.Justice

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Living off a backpack in rural China

Time flies in Beijing and we are already preparing for our midterms, which makes me miss being on the road even more. I recently returned from traveling for two weeks during the Chinese New Year in the Southwestern province of Yunnan, and I haven’t had much time to reflect on all that we’ve seen and done. Together with my classmates and professors, I visited some of the most remote villages in the province and got to experience rural life in China.

Saying this trip was intense would be an understatement. 50 hours on buses, 6 village visits, 3 flights, one overnight train and infinite amounts of rice in such a short time could drive anyone crazy, but once I adjusted to the pace, this trip became one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in China. Living in Beijing was a challenge at first, but this excursion was a whole new level of culture shock. Dealing with constant discomfort due to changes in altitude, different cuisines, below-freezing temperatures at night, and lack of heating were only a few of our daily struggles.

However, it was all worth it. Among many memorable moments, some of the highlights were learning the Dragon dance at the Yi village, attending a street banquet at the Hani village, learning the ancient Dongba pictograph script from the Naxi village’s shaman, talking to a Buddhist monk in the Dai village about the impact of tourism on his temple, enjoying a traditional three-course tea ceremony and hiking the rice terraces under heavy fog. The six different ethnic groups we’ve met had such different cultures, lifestyles, traditional outfits, cuisines and religious practices. The only common thing was their hospitable and curious nature.

Very few families were used to having foreigners stay at their house, but for most of them, it was the first time seeing a foreigner. Every night we would have the opportunity to attend a community party where our hosts would share tunes, dances or stories that passed through generations, and we would reciprocate with our own “American” dance (which for lack of better options ended up being the Macarena and the Cupid Shuffle). These cultural exchange dinners were our time to play with the kids, talk to the village’s elders and tell them a bit about what life is like on the other side of the globe.

I celebrated the Chinese New Year Eve in the Dai village on the border of Myanmar watching the fireworks from our balcony, and sharing a bag of banana chips with my adorable five-year-old host brother. I never would have imagined feeling so at home in a place so far away from anything I’ve known. All I could think about at that moment was how grateful I was for the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen and the memories I’ve shared with our hosts. It might not have been the easiest way of experiencing China, but it was definitely the most worthwhile.

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“People died for YOU to sit here.”

For this semester, I am a student at University of the Western Cape (UWC), which is also known as the “University of the Left.” In 1986, the institution earned this name after students and administration fought to admit Black African students because UWC was originally established as a Coloured university in 1959. Under the apartheid system, if you were Coloured, you would attend UWC. Now the university is composed mostly of Black African and Coloured students, making my experience at UWC starkly different from my time at Georgetown University. Here in South Africa, Black African and Coloured are two different racial categories, which were established under the apartheid government. In the states, both racial groups would be categorized as Black or Racially Ambiguous.

My favorite module (another term for a course) is Anthropology 312: Social Identity. The lecturer is Zulfa Abrahams, who attended UWC during the student protests against the apartheid government to change the legislation to give Black African students admittance. During a class debate, in which she urged students to open up their minds in order to learn, she drops “When I attended UWC, Coloured students, my classmates, died right next to me… the White Apartheid government shot them down… People died for YOU to sit here.” The class was completely silent as we attempted to process what was just said. Before returning to the lecture, she adds, “UWC is an icon in the struggle of educating Blacks…We are a university that understands the struggle.”

I have heard nothing like this at Georgetown University, a privileged institution, founded in old money. As the lecture continued, I thought Where would I be, in all of my Americaness and all of my Blackness if students did not die for me to be here at UWC? But part of me knew that she was addressing the Black African students in the class who were sitting amongst the Coloured students.  I often have moments like this when I am an outsider due to my African American identity, but that’s to be expected as it is part of the study abroad experience.

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