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San Diego State University

Krystal Nzeadibe in Amsterdam.

Black and Abroad:
Students Share Experiences,
Perceptions Studying Abroad

By Michael Klitzing

While the Black Resource Center (BRC) will offer black students a place to congregate and build community at San Diego State University, its impact should extend far beyond campus. The BRC is envisioned as a place that will broaden the international horizons of a population traditionally underrepresented in study abroad.

“The Black Resource Center is founded on black excellence and connecting students to resources providing them an academic and professional edge,” said Quincey Penn, coordinator of the BRC. “The constant exposure to study abroad opportunities that the BRC will provide will hopefully yield a higher percentage of black students taking advantage of this high impact practice.”

Recent statistics show why these efforts are crucial; while black students make up about 14 percent of the U.S. college student population, they make up just 3.5 percent of U.S. study abroad participants. Other indicators suggest that black students often don’t know peers who have studied abroad, and they can have lingering questions about what challenges their racial identity might pose for them in a foreign country.

To provide further insight on black identity and the international experience, we spoke with several black SDSU students who have studied abroad:

Krystal Nzeadibe

Krystal Nzeadibe in Rome, Italy.

Krystal is a finance senior and Weber Honors College student. She studied abroad in Rome, Italy on the College of Extended Studies faculty-led program “Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship in Rome” over winter break 2018.




Christian Onwuka

Christian Onwuka in the Dominican Republic.

Christian is a finance junior. He studied abroad in the Dominican Republic on the College of Extended Studies faculty-led program “Global Leadership and Diversity Identities in Santo Domingo” in summer 2016.




Kamryn Morris

Kamryn Morris in Finland.

Kamryn is a child and family development senior and Weber Honors College student. She studied for a full semester at Åbo Akademi University in Vaasa, Finland in fall 2016.


 

"Don’t be discouraged to do it. We deserve to be in these spaces just as much as anybody else.
"

—Krystal Nzeadibe

 


 

Q: What are your general thoughts about your study abroad experience?

Nzeadibe:
It was definitely a big act of independence and I’m glad I took it. The other students in the program were really great, and it was great talking to the founders of the companies we visited, because entrepreneurship can seem super inaccessible and scary. I also loved eating in Italy — it was so delicious. I probably ate pizza and pasta every day for two weeks.


Onwuka:
I had never been abroad before so it was just exhilarating for me just to get that first passport stamp. We started by staying one day in Punta Cana, which is this amazing resort town; I felt like a king. Then we visited some of the ghettos and it was the most humbling experience; just seeing these kids who looked like my little brother, it really hit me. We also went to a former slave plantation — I think I cried that day. It made me realize how blessed I was to be in this position because of all the people who came before and what they endured.

Q: Before you went, did you have any preconceived notions about how you would be treated as a black American?


Morris:
I was nervous because I’d always heard that people in other countries don’t like Americans and, as a black American, that made it even scarier. But I think in school and in my life I’ve learned to kind of toughen up and be the black person in a predominantly white world.

Onwuka:
I thought we were going to be treated better than we actually were! I thought that since Dominicans are black, they were going to be cool to us.


Q: What was was the reality of your experience?


Onwuka:
People would look at me like, “No, you’re not one of us.” They saw themselves as Dominican, not black. That’s when we learned the history of the country and how (dictator Rafael) Trujillo tried to get rid of the black image of the Dominican Republic. Black people were brainwashed to think they weren’t black, and that black meant less than. It was a real wakeup call; it challenged my assumption that just because people look alike, they’re going to think the same.

Morris:
People in Finland seemed to be more comfortable speaking to me than the other exchange students I was with. I got along really well with people there and it changed the way I thought about things. Like, maybe because I was black it made me not seem so threatening? I still wonder why I made the relationships I did. It’s a mystery for me.

Q: Did you encounter any attitudes or stereotypes relating to your blackness?


Nzeadibe:
One thing: I had braids in my hair and they were long and purple. I had a lot of people touching my hair, which is an invasion of privacy — I’m not an object for them to touch.

Onwuka:
A lot of Dominicans were really cool to us, but even they had their preconceived stereotypes. They asked me if I was from Compton. I told them, “No, I’m from San Diego.” I was also asked what sport I played. I said, “None, I’m literally just a college student.” They seemed fascinated by that, so it was actually really cool to break down that stereotype.

Q: What’s your advice for black students who are considering studying abroad?


Morris:
I would say what my professor Bruce Harley said to me: “I encourage them to be uncomfortable. Go somewhere you can’t picture yourself being and immerse yourself in it.”

Nzeadibe:
Definitely do a lot of research on where you are going. Be aware of the history of the country and how people there perceive people who look like you. But don’t be discouraged to do it. We deserve to be in these spaces just as much as anybody else.


Onwuka:
I went with three of my fraternity brothers, and our group was very diverse and welcoming. But even if you’re the only black student, who cares? At the end of the day, this is to help you. And you don’t know what you can spark. One of my best friends ended up studying abroad in the Dominican Republic this past summer because I told her it was dope. You can be that influence for somebody else, so take this opportunity and run with it.

Learn more about study abroad program options by visiting the Aztecs Abroad database or read about the experiences of your classmates on the SDSU Be International blog.

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