My entire life I have been “the token black girl.” In the classes that I take or activities that I participate in I tend to be the only black person involved. On occasion I am one of a few, but that doesn’t happen very often. The Oxford program was no different, and to be perfectly honest I didn’t expect my time in Europe as a whole to differ much. Simply put, I am used to standing out because of my race, however in the US just because there are not a lot of blacks, doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I couldn’t be so sure when it came to my various destinations.
As a result of colonization as well as their general proximity to Africa, cities like London and Paris have a fair amount of Black citizens. On the other hand, in my experience the cultural make-up of other cities we visited like Prague, Zagreb, or even Vienna are more homogenous. From the moment of my arrival it became relatively clear that I was somewhat of an anomaly. In several of my destinations I was often stared at as I passed, usually by individuals of an older generation, but not always. Their stares were never malicious or contemptuous, but more along the lines of fascinated, maybe even slightly shocked. I would merely smile in return and they would smile back.
In Croatia, we were on our way to the train station when an elderly Italian woman excitedly stopped me in the middle of a street market, grabbed my hand and told me that my skin was “muy bella.” Her group of friends or family, I couldn’t be sure which, politely concurred and I managed to muster up a simple “grazie” before continuing to the station. Although I am used to standing out because of my race, I am almost certain that I have never had that happen before. She made my day to say the least.
Trekking across Europe I was unsure how people would react to me. As history has shown, people tend to be afraid of the unfamiliar. I can say that thus far I have received nothing but the warmest of welcomes, which makes it that much easier to adjust to the many different cultures that I have recently come into contact with.
Moral of the Story: Sometimes things don’t turn out as expected, and sometimes that’s a good thing.