Maia Coffey ‘21, Public Relations and Advertising major/Production Design for Film minor, participated in a spring 2020 semester abroad program in Prague.
Going abroad has been a dream of mine since I started an online art magazine with my friends in high school. The magazine was submission-based, and we unexpectedly got submissions from Japan, Belgium, United Arab Emirates, and other countries all around the world. All of the submitters were young people like my friends and me, and that inspired me to travel abroad and meet people from all around the world. I wanted to learn about other people’s way of life and bond over our shared interests and hobbies. As a Black woman, in the back of my mind I had a small thought that my race would negatively impact my time abroad, but this thought was largely overshadowed by all of the positive possibilities that could have and did come from my study abroad experience in Prague. Going abroad, especially as a student of color, is an amazing opportunity to see yourself and identity in a new light, as well as being a positive representation of your ethnicity in a country or city that hasn’t had much interaction with your race.
Fortunately, I did not have any negative interactions due to my race while in Prague. Many of the locals that I met were very friendly, helpful, and curious to learn more about me. Despite my semester abroad being cut short due to COVID-19, I became a regular at three of the cafes in my neighborhood, and felt a sense of friendliness and warmth from the cashiers, baristas, and waiters whenever I went to those places. Additionally, while studying at Anglo-American University, I met students from places like Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Uruguay, etc. who were as interested about my life in California as I was about theirs. Exploring art galleries during my Art History class, collaborating on projects in Brand Management, dissecting and appreciating history and culture in Czech Film and Literature, and discussing global issues in my International Organizations course were some of the highlights of my experience. Most of my classes were filled with non-American students which allowed for a wide-range of perspectives to be represented, leading to many enriching discussions. By the end of my brief stay in Prague, I made friends from several different states and countries, and with them I went to concerts, thrift shops, parks, cafes, and even took a short trip to Dresden, Germany.
Going abroad, especially as a student of color, is an amazing opportunity to see yourself and identity in a new light, as well as being a positive representation of your ethnicity in a country or city that hasn’t had much interaction with your race.
All of this is to say that studying abroad is an amazing opportunity that, if given the chance, one should definitely seize. The world is so much more than just America, and I believe it is important for us to seek to understand communities beyond our own, challenge our own beliefs, and collaborate together to create positive change on a global scale. To any BISOC who may be on the fence about studying abroad because they fear their race may lead to negative experiences in a foreign country, I want to say that if you really want to go abroad, these feelings of doubt shouldn’t stop you. It may seem daunting to juggle diving into a new language, culture, and standing out racially. Though, the more of us that go abroad, the more this feeling of uncertainty will dwindle. There will be moments where you will feel uncomfortable or out of place, but it is in these moments of discomfort that we have the greatest amount of growth. It is the beauty of going abroad, we get out of our element and routine, get thrown into the mix of a foreign culture, and learn a lot about ourselves in the process.
There will be moments where you will feel uncomfortable or out of place, but it is in these moments of discomfort that we have the greatest amount of growth.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to do a lot of research into your host culture before going abroad. I found that because I learned some basic Czech with a language app, watched vlogs of YouTubers that either went to Prague or live there, found places that I wanted to go in the city (including a Black hair salon), etc. this helped me to convert any anxiety I had about my abroad experience into preparedness and excitement. Chapman and CEA definitely encourage this in the pre-departure assignments, and I think it is really important to do. This enabled me to feel more comfortable in the host culture quicker and to feel more secure in my identity abroad. Lastly, I want to reiterate that if you are able to go abroad and want to go abroad, you should go abroad. It sounds simple, but as a Black, Indigenous, or other Student of Color (BISOC), there may be some inner and outer influences that tell us that this experience is not for us. I remember when deciding to go abroad, I asked a White classmate about her experience in Prague. She said that she really loved it, but wasn’t sure if I would be happy there because of my racial identity and the fact that there isn’t a lot of racial diversity there. I’m sure her concern didn’t come from a malicious place, but I can imagine that another BISOC could have taken this remark as a sign that studying abroad was not an experience that they could have without facing great adversity. What she said is what the small voice in my head was telling me before I decided to go abroad. I am very grateful that I ultimately made the decision to follow my heart and to study in Prague. Although my stay there was brief, it left a profound impact on me and I hope other BISOC will seek out this experience.
Maia participated in the CEA semester abroad program at Anglo-American University. You can check out this program and others on the Global Gateway. Students apply two semesters in advance for all semester abroad programs.