I can go to Europe anytime in my life. I would rather root myself in one place and build relationships with people but in Europe I saw myself traveling every other weekend with the same group of Americans. I wanted to build relationships with local people and really get to know a place. I knew close to nothing about Cape Town. I like things to be certain in life. I like to know the path, and how to figure people out so that I know how to communicate with them. This was an opportunity to go with the flow for once and not know what I was getting into.
The University of Cape Town is a big public university, the Harvard of South Africa, similar in rigor to UCSB. It’s such a diverse campus with people from over 100 countries. I tried to take a photo but I couldn’t get diversity in the frame. Blacks sit together, whites sit together, there’s those of mixed descent.
The experience made me able to better define and clarify my privilege. I met a Ugandan student there who grew up in South Africa. There were curfews for blacks when he was growing up. He told me about the time he and his mom were in the grocery store waiting in line to pay when the sirens went off at 6 p.m. That was their curfew time and they had to leave without their groceries to go home. I had only heard about apartheid.
I realized that as much as I could try to understand where my friend and others experiencing racial oppression are coming from, I could never understand. Do I have a role here? It’s important to emphasize the importance of empathy. The first step is knowledge. You have to be motivated to understand that there are differences and to appreciate those differences. Just because someone does something differently it doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong. I still felt so rooted in my American ways. This is the first time I experienced being a minority.
My study abroad experience made me realize the importance of acknowledging different perspectives and we should all be motivated to pursue that. You have to put yourself out there and pursue interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Listening is important and waiting for the other party to bring their judgments, attributions and interpretations.
I had friends from UCSB studying abroad in Scotland. I was going to take them around and show them Montmartre- the attacks happened between Montmartre and my apartment. It was scary. I had been living there maybe four months and nothing had happened. Paris had been the safest city I’d ever been in. I felt sad that this is the perception that my friends would get, I was sad for the people involved, sad for the country. We went back to my apartment and my French neighbor came and said, ‘Turn on the TV and stay in your apartment.’ We entertained ourselves and had whatever food I had in the apartment. We were on lockdown for two days. My friends had enough and never came back. They didn’t get to see anything. I was able to take them to the Eiffel Tower the last day. No one was there. It was full of policemen with guns.
I tried to donate blood but I couldn’t because I’m from another country and there were so many people lined up outside hospitals to give blood for victims that they said, ‘We have more than enough.’ Two of the restaurants where attacks happened opened again quickly and they said, ‘We are not going to be afraid.’ It was good to see how they handled it. Once it was safe, I went to places where the shootings occurred, paid my respects and cried like a baby. I had seen the beginning and had to see the end.
At school, I really appreciated the professors who said, ‘This is a hard time but we are going to teach you and explain what’s going on, what built up to this, and what the repercussions will be.’ In my ethics of war class we studied what this means and how politicians are going to have to react. The school kept its integrity. They weren’t going to shy away. We had alarms three times a day in school and it was stressful. The tenseness lasted maybe three weeks, the security and evacuations lasted the rest of the time I was there.
The lady that was in charge of our program from the UC Center in Paris would send us emails every day, texted us and called us. She was very on top of everything. I could always rely on her. She would say that she was our Paris mom and we are her Paris kids. The orientation prepared us for what to expect- a lot of pickpocketing, don’t walk around this or that neighborhood, if you’re in the Metro, hold your bag like this.
There are a lot of locations in Paris but my UCSB French professor encouraged me to go to this one school because it is more recognized for political science. It was a very hard school. I completed my political science requirements in Paris but it was very rigorous and demanding. I thought I was going to go to Paris to do a little school and travel. The professors were mostly politicians or lawmakers hired for that semester to teach. I learned how the French learn political science and how they see issues. I found myself getting excited about what I was learning. The information was so practical. I came back to UCSB more interested in my major.
Now I have friends in Germany, Italy, Vienna. I’m going back to Europe in the summer. It changed me in that I have several homes now. I can stay in Spain with my friend that I met there and she can stay at my house in Mexico or San Diego. I made a friend from Israel- I need to understand the people in order to understand what’s going on in that region. I know so many more people. I’m not just in one small area of the world.
Egypt was my first choice. I absolutely adore the culture and its historical significance from the beginning of time. Going to study abroad in Egypt would have given me a great view of the Middle East. I wanted that Arab world part of Africa. But I was not disappointed by Jordan.
In high school I said, ‘I’m going to study abroad in college.’ Freshman year at UCSB there was a study abroad display case that featured Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Israel, but I dismissed the thought of studying abroad. I didn’t think about it until the end of junior year when I started taking Arabic. I really wanted to dedicate the time to study and learn the language and made up my mind to study abroad in the Middle East. I told my mom dad, ‘I’m going to study abroad in Jordan.’ My dad said, ‘Why did you choose that region?’ My mom said, ‘You have to get a passport.’ My older brother studied abroad in London. My parents know me: when there’s a fire and everyone else is running away from it I’ll run through it. I’m fearless. This was a chance for me to expand my interest in international relations beyond the borders of the U.S.
Getting to hear Arabic everyday definitely improved my comprehension and speaking with locals. The food was phenomenal. I lived with a host family. Both host parents work for the United Nations in Amman. They were great. I felt very safe and so at home. The first night was weird. It felt like a weird familiarity because it reminded me of the nights when I would visit family in Nigeria where I was born. It was hot, there were a lot of cars and I heard the call to prayer which I hadn’t heard since 2009 when I had been in Nigeria where there is a Muslim community. The catcalls were more prevalent and intense there but no one acted on it. I never felt threatened.
Jordan is much more conservative than the U.S. and very expensive. I went to Petra, rode a camel, fell in love and cried when I had to say goodbye. People stared and touched my braids in the street. I knew what I was getting myself into. People were surprised by my lack of reaction. During orientation here and onsite, there was another black girl and organizers told us they recommended having your passport or a copy because we might be thrown off the bus if people thought we were refugees.
During my internship at the Arab Institute for Security Studies I had the opportunity to help plan a major conference. I heard many dignitaries speak and met them. Being in the presence of all of these important people was very cool.
Culturally, I heard Singapore is less of a transition when you get there, and being in the center I was able to travel around the region rather easily. I went to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
I studied at the National University of Singapore. It’s the only program in Singapore for UC’s. There were 40 of us from all the UC’s, and 10 of us from UCSB. It’s growing. A lot of people are coming back and saying, ‘You have to go.’ People think Korea, Japan, Thailand, but they’re touristy. Most people don’t know much about Singapore. I didn’t until I started looking into it.
It was cool to experience what it’s like to be somewhere that’s exceptionally cohesive and safe. The country is so new that there’s very much still that pressure that if we don’t all work together we won’t continue to exist. They just had their 50th anniversary as a country. The generation that created the country is still there. There’s no room for messing around. They need everyone to work together so that they can continue to prosper. Singapore doesn’t have the resources - it imports water and food that it needs to exist so it needs good relations with the countries around it. We Americans are more outspoken- there they are more polite. In the U.S. I was used to going on the train and putting this front on so that no one messes with me but there they are concerned for each other. I never met anyone who wasn’t nice in Singapore.
I lived in the dorms, - closer to campus than Santa Catalina at UCSB and it was like its own town. I was in class with locals. I took an intro to Southeast Asia class and the history of Singapore. It helped me understand Singapore and the way things are. Singapore is known as a multicultural society but it’s less diverse than the U.S. with most of the population Chinese and Malaysian.
I made a lot of friends in Singapore and I Facetime with them often. The time difference sucks because they’re 16 hours ahead of us. My roommates were from Germany and Spain. I left realizing that if I never plan to go back I’ve just closed the door on a whole other life and people I met and am just starting to get to know. My friends and I are determined to work abroad, targeting industries that can get us back to Southeast Asia. There are so many different ways to experience life.