First impressions can be deceiving. And, as a young [Black] adult first impressions can be very wrong. Although, I had yet to discover this until I decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Study abroad can be scary for most students. An unknown environment and an unfamiliar culture are enough to keep individuals within the confines of their comfort zone. But, Black individuals, specifically, are forced to think critically about how the mere site of their skin color can set them on a path of potential ridicule, danger, and racism abroad.
Fortunately, my institution, Spelman College, prepared me to expect the unexpected and never take my identity, as a Black woman, for granted. Before I left abroad, I attempted to learn about the discourse surrounding Afro-Argentines. However, to my dismay there was little to no information. I was then forced to face the realities of my disappointment, I knew absolutely nothing of race relations in Argentina.
Upon arriving, I was comforted in the fact that my program (School for International Training) and host family did not seem to mind that I was a person of color. In reality, I was ecstatic. Everything seemed to be going smoothly the first week of my matriculation until the piropos (cat-calls) started taking immense precedence in my everyday life. I couldn’t walk down the street without a comment about my skin color or gender. I addressed my concerns with my program but they only stated that piropos were “common” for all women in Argentina.
I remember a specific instance that was most notable. My program took a trip to Rosario. Often times, my peers and I would travel in pairs while exploring the new environments. While my peer and I were walking, a group of Argentines approached us and asked to take a picture with me. I was flattered but, of course, curious. I proceeded to ask, why? One of the individuals stated, it because he had never really met someone so “morena.” This situation and many to follow caused me to strive to change the discourse and perspectives towards Black individuals, more specifically Black women, abroad.
Don’t get me wrong, my experience abroad was a positive one. I did not let my new found knowledge change my attitude or my goal to learn the language and culture. In fact, I went from speaking little to no Spanish to becoming almost fluent. I was able to use my experience to begin my research on the idea of the Exotic Other: Hypersexualization of Black Women’s Bodies in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Not only was I able to present the research to my program, School for International Training: Social Movements and Human Rights, but will continue to conduct this research while earning my Master’s Degree in Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill.
It is important to remember that not every experience will be what you expect. Sometimes, the experience is the complete opposite. But, it is always important to remember each experience is a part of your growth as a global citizen. I hope to use my experience abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina to encourage American students of color to travel and learn abroad through applying for Gilman. Gilman has been set in place to help those who embrace their unique qualities and strive to make a global impact. My experience, quite literally, changed my life. I recognize that my status as a global citizen would not have been possible without the Benjamin A. Gilman Study Abroad Scholarship.
My advice to you is to take the leap and apply! You are special and deserve an experience of a lifetime. So, what is stopping you?