When you go abroad, it is assumed and expected that you fall out of touch with the daily trends and interactions that you experience. For example, the familiar smiling faces on your walk to Gelbucks or the student who heavily sighs at comments about race in the back of the class can seem so trivial and routine. As I bring my semester to a close, I reflect on how out of touch and removed I’ve become to the things that have and continue to attribute to my student experience. But for one thing in particular, I have yet to lose touch: my blackness. Being in Australia has amalgamated my identities as a student, activist, black man, and so much more. Here’s why:
Prior to my departure, I received a plethora of advice, jokes, and concerns about how I would fit into a society that for several decades, oppressed an indigenous group, known as the Aboriginals. Basically, people thought that I may be confused for an Aboriginal person. As I’ve learned in great detail in my “Australian History” class, the similarities of U.S. and Australian history is quite parallel. There was a surge of European forces that claimed land and expanded its growth at the expense of another population. With that being said, it is safe to assume that similarities lie within the minorities and their historical oppression.
Since I’ve been in Australia, I’ve experienced a few things. First, no one confuses or treats me as if I am Aboriginal. Here, I’ve almost always been addressed and approached as an American. In comparison to the states, the Australian sense of national identity is much higher and truly emphasizes their sense of collective culture. For the first time in my life, I was American first, then black or gay. This spoke volumes to me about labels we so commonly use. Secondly, I’ve noticed that any microaggressions that I experience stem from ignorance rather than intention. Based on my experiences, having such a diverse population of people in one’s community can lead to a sense of definitive knowledge about other cultures. This is not necessarily the key to actually learning about and integrating diversity. Learning to not engage and observe this ethnocentric behavior has been my greatest lesson learned thus far. Lastly, perspective is key. I’ve had conversations with students from countries that I may never have the opportunity to visit. To speak with someone from the other side of the world about a shared topic ignites enthusiasm and curiosity! I can comfortably say the chance to have these conversations have allowed me to become even more culturally competent than before.
As I bring this experience to a close, I can’t help but wonder how my far too common experiences will appear with a new and global lense. Time will tell!
Carlo Wood is a Junior in GWSB pursuing a BBA in Sport, Event & Hospitality Management, with a minor in Communication. He is currently abroad at Bond University in Australia through the Arcadia program. To read more about it, click here.