My first trip abroad was in high school. At 16 years old, I applied for a summer program through the University of Dallas to study Shakespeare in Italy. During the program, I visited Rome, Venice, and Bologna. By the end of my trip, I was enamored with all three cities and with Europe in general. Needless to say, from the moment I left, I dreamt of going back. I knew that when the next opportunity to travel abroad presented itself, I would grab it by the horns. During my sophomore year at Yale, one such opportunity did arise and it proved to be one of those rare special experiences that seemed to change my life forever. Funded by a summer scholarship, I embarked on a two-month journey to Argentina with the Harvard Summer School Study Abroad Program.
I had been eagerly anticipating the trip from the moment I was accepted to the program. However, when I arrived at the airport in Buenos Aires, I quickly began to develop second thoughts about my decision. As I walked through the airport, I saw and felt the intense stares that seemed to shoot at me from every angle. As the stares grew, my enthusiasm and self-confidence shook. In those moments, more than ever before, I became conscious of my blackness. I searched for someone who looked like me, whose skin bore some semblance of the same mahogany brown tones in order to convince myself that I was just being paranoid. As I strained my eyes, a little child passing by looked at me with a startled expression and signaled to the woman holding his hand. At this point, it took everything in me to prevent my tear ducts from spilling over with a thousand single teardrops that would instantly expose all of my feelings of weakness and vulnerability to everyone intently looking at me.
By the time I was able to locate the Harvard group, I had seriously contemplated no less than a dozen times the possibility of obtaining a flight to return to the USA that same day. However, when I surveyed the group—to my pleasant surprise—I noticed that there were three other black girls in the program. Almost immediately, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I didn’t know any of the girls personally, but I already felt connected through my earlier experience. I convinced myself that if I stayed, I wouldn’t be alone in navigating the unwelcome stares and challenges of living as a young black woman abroad.