A recent opinion piece in the New York Times Travel section titled “My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad” offers a valuable way to open a discussion about racial attitudes in other countries. Because students of color are still a minority of students studying abroad (see IIE Open Doors 2017 data), orientations are often not geared towards their potential experiences. And the overriding truism that study abroad is the best experience of one’s college years means that negative experiences often don’t get discussed publicly. That seemed to be the case for this student, or, at the least, racism in Italy was downplayed.
The subject of racism is worth bringing up as you prepare students to study abroad. Such preparation will not only help them ready themselves but also may help them see other societies as complex and changeable.
I know from my work with faculty and their programs that many want students to see other countries and societies as contemporary and modern and not merely a collection of monuments fixed in the past. But that can be a challenge when programs are trying to cover a lot in a short amount of time. Firsthand accounts from other students can help to open students’ eyes and minds. This article is one of those.