Part 3: Don’t make your comfort zone an island

Apr 04, 2018

JAPAN part 3

Sunset at Gion temple, Kyoto.

About "A Black Woman in Kimono" series

Claflin senior Audrey Anchirinah explores her experiences during study abroad in Japan as a black woman through an op-ed series, “A Black Woman in Kimono.”  Using anecdotes drawn from experiences, she explores how Japan, though considered a first world country, still has long way to go when it comes to understanding race as well as embracing racial differences. In this series, she also explores how foreigners, especially Americans, navigate through the Japanese way of life. The target audience for this series is black college students as well as recent black college graduates who want to study abroad or travel abroad. This is part 3.

Most students I have met on campus have never traveled out of their home state and wouldn’t think of traveling out of the U.S. I try as much as possible to encourage students to travel because there is a whole different perspective out there filled with amazing experiences.

However, most these students have firmly turned their comfort zone into an island and refuse to venture out. So traveling to unfamiliar places is a fear for them.

I am from Ghana in West Africa. I have been to Cuba, Puerto Rico and now Japan. I have had brief layovers in China and South Korea, but I did not do much between those intervals. I have always wanted to travel.

As a child, I used to read a lot about places beyond my small little town in Ghana. Traveling to places is more of an amazing experience than reading about them or seeing them on TV. Traveling is not just about sightseeing, it’s about taking in what makes a place and its culture unique.

One major thing that is a big part of a culture is food. I love food, so traveling is way of expanding my palate and trying as many delicious foods as I can. The best place so far for me when it comes to food is Japan. The food over there is so fresh, so healthy and so tasty. Apart from food, I love to explore museums or incredible architecture that captures the essence of a place. I love the colorful streets of the old city of San Juan in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico also has some really amazing art galleries and architecture.

I can write all these and more amazing experiences, but I do not want you the student to only read and enjoy it, I want you to go see for yourself the wonders of the world. It is scary, but you do not have to just pour over a lot of travel blogs with wishful thinking. Go out and travel.

One of the best things about being an American is having a passport that allows you to travel to a lot of countries with a visa for a period of time. Even if you do not possess an American passport like me, it is not impossible to get visas.

Over the years, there has been a steady increase in U.S students studying abroad. However, according to NAFSA: (i.e. Association of International Educators), only about 6 percent of African-Americans study abroad.

Due to this, most African-Americans are missing out on job prospects and other benefits. The world is a global village and many American companies have expanded beyond the shores of the U.S. Therefore, they seek to employ individuals with a diverse mindset, preferably college graduates who have had some learning experience abroad.

The thought of traveling is daunting to a lot of African-Americans because of the lack of representation in the travel sector. However, a lot of young black travelers are changing the narrative and creating travel blogs to help bridge the lack of representation. For example, Travel Noire was created by Zim Ugochukwu, a young entrepreneur and the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants. This is a digital publishing platform that "creates tools and resources for the unconventional traveler." Ugochukwu created this in 2013 for persons of color to find a sense of representation in the travel community.

There are a lot of study-abroad opportunities geared toward African-American students with some amount of funding. You just have to visit the international studies office for more information about opportunities and available funding.

Some organizations like the Black Caucus fully fund some study-abroad programs. There are travel websites like Student Universe that give discounts on tickets, hotels, etc. You do not need prior knowledge of a language before studying abroad.

I went to Japan with zero education in Japanese, however I was eager to learn as much as possible from scratch. Study-abroad programs can be less than a semester, such as for 10 days or two weeks: take advantage of them. Traveling will teach you some valuable life lessons that will not be taught in class.

So come out of your comfort zone and travel. Life is too short to make an island of your comfort zone when there are amazing discoveries out there.

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