I had a great time abroad, and I am hoping to have the privilege to travel again really soon. That being said, as a person of color while studying abroad in Spain, there were many times where I longed for home, my family, and my friends. I want to preface by saying this should not be considered the only tips for students of minority populations studying abroad for a couple reasons: first of all, I am not the only example of a minority population, and second, not every place has a similar atmosphere to Spain. My reason for writing this post is simply to share some things that helped me while I was abroad due to my identity as a minority. I hope my tips are of some help, but there are many others out there that are different for every individual!
1. Finding places that feel like home to you
Not every place abroad will have bubble tea. For me, I was lucky to find this place because boba shops are a staple back home, in California and Washington. These are venues for socialization, catching up with friends, laughing, and deep talks as well. Often times, people will take photos due to the aesthetic of the walls, the stuffed animals, or simply because it is their favorite boba shop. I felt right at home as I stepped into this shop, simply by being in an environment that was somewhat familiar to me, and because I saw flavors on the menu that reminded me of some hometown favorites in the United States, such as taro, passion fruit, and jasmine.
2. Engaging with activities and events that have values or components similar to cultural events back home
For the Vietnamese New Year, a big part of our culture is having traditional dances and songs be played at shows our big festivals. While not the exact same thing, flamenco is a cultural performance, and being able to take a class to learn the moves, the rhythms, and how to move with the beat very much reminded me of learning a traditional Vietnamese dance, which often times makes me smile. We also wear colorful dresses when we do this dance, and similarly, flamenco dancers wear vibrant dresses to showcase their Spanish culture as well.
Back home, one of the things I love to do with my sister is to cook and bake different things, and it can range from Asian food to American food. It is our way of sharing our Vietnamese heritage with one another, as I believe food is a great mechanism to tell stories and empathize with the experiences of others. From baking pastries, to trying to cook some Vietnamese classics, the kitchen in recent years has been a fun place of working together and collaboration between my sister and me. In a similar way, learning how to cook Spanish dishes such as paella, Spanish tortilla, and crema catalana, was fun for me to practice some skills and work with others to craft a story through food. The idea of working together, teamwork, and having fun while making food has been something in college that I have not taken for granted. Food is great to eat but also a way to connect culturally with others as well.
3. Talking and having conversations with students from similar backgrounds to you.
In classes, I met many students from Asia, such as Japan and China, for example. While our cultures did not align 100%, the fact that I was able to make friends and talk with individuals who looked like me and had some similar cultural and family experiences really helped me get into my own while abroad in Spain. At my university, we talk about how people can feel more comfortable when they are around individuals who look and speak like them; for me, I truly felt this abroad because often times in a room, I was the only person of color, or the only Asian American for that matter. It felt good to be able to relate with people who missed their families (as Asians often place a strong emphasis on the home and family), missed Asian food, and missed speaking their native tongue (while I speak English in school, I speak a decent amount of Vietnamese with my family and even some of my friends).