To be completely honest: I’m pretty nervous to go to Copenhagen. Though, I am sure that this sentiment is mutual for a large majority of the mass exodus of incoming DIS students, the root core of this anxiety may not be so familiar. I can imagine that many are worried they won’t “fit in”—a fear that stems from the unknown of whether or not their study abroad experience will culminate with unparalleled positivity brought on by personal interactions. We all seek to find that niche we are compatible with that will allow us to reflect on DIS with nostalgia. With that said, I am worried about a similar issue, but the issue is not the unknown, but rather the known.
I am not insecure about my ability to forge meaningful friendships, but want I do consciously notice is whether or not this desire is reciprocated by the parties with whom I interact with. Lately, I’ve come to the realization that this lack of reciprocity is magnified if the party in question is not someone like me—and I am a very rare specimen outside of my community.
You don’t see very many first-generation college students abroad. You don’t see very many queer students abroad. You don’t see very many low-income students abroad. You don’t see many Mexicans abroad. Combine these identities and the likelihood of encountering such a common brethren becomes far more scarce. Don’t get me wrong—I love meeting people who are different than me, but a significant issue that I have experienced in international settings is a lack of empathy for the kind of character I resonate with and why this is not necessarily received well by someone who does not practice empathy.
The intricacies of identity in academic spaces—either in the U.S. or abroad—invade and influence our interactions, which subsequently affect how we react in certain situations. There will be times when I will go above and beyond in my coursework because I literally cannot afford to get anything less than an A. Some nights, I envision having to turn down invitations to go to a party because I’m too afraid to drink with peers that are not like me because I have to actively dismantle negative stereotypes about my people and cannot risk tainting or affirming a negative outlook of my race. There are a variety of things that I will do that may be considered unorthodox from the traditional outlook of study abroad experience, and a huge contributive factor to that will be an apparent lack of diversity from an eclectic array of backgrounds in these settings.
In fact, I see a myriad of underrepresentation in so many of these programs from a myriad of factors not solely limited to race. Programs have tried to reassure me by saying “We have X percentage of people of color!” This is a great first step—but the issues circling the representation of identity is far more nuanced. It is not just a matter of whether or not we check off the same box on the race section of demographic surveys, but rather a search for a narrative that emphasizes the struggle of arriving at a program like DIS.
I hope to find someone in Copenhagen—be it a local Danish resident, DIS student, or both—that will understand the hardships I’ve endured to get to Denmark, and why I am the way I am. I hope to meet someone else who came from a similar background to fill the void of loneliness I feel every single day. But what I hope most of all is that the lack of empathy that may occur at Copenhagen because another person that is just like me is not there, will not attempt to extinguish or invalidate my experiences or personality by saying that “I have a friend that was also poor but they don’t try so hard in school” or anything in a similar framework.
While I am optimistic that my experience with DIS will be one of jubilation, I cannot help but feel out of place and fear that I will feel this way for 4 months. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes.
This blog is a repost that was originally posted on my WordPress site as a student blogger for the DIS - Copenhagen program