These past few months have been, to say the very least, difficult. I know that for most people, touring the world is supposed to be one that instills automatic bliss (and in some ways it does). However, for me, researching in Taiwan, interning in Spain, and now studying in Denmark is more than simply being appeased by the fact that I get to write and talk about them—-it’s about how my identity integrates within these international spaces. It’s about learning just how vast and diverse the world is outside my various microcosms back in the states which effortlessly bring me joy. However, while I hope to return to the States with tales about my shenanigans, I also hope that the Taiwanese, Spanish, and Danish communities can speak about me—this eccentric, nerdy, Hispanic kid who smiles way too much and always has more to say in response to simple questions. But I am also the kid they don’t see quite often here.
Indeed, the DIS program is far more homogenous than I expected, which magnifies my isolation as I struggle to find other POCs who empathize with some of the turmoil, fear, and stress left behind in the racially tumultuous climate of the States. Curiously, it makes me wonder who these study abroad programs are truly designed for, and the efforts being made to diversify the experience, both for their students and the countries hosting such programs.
I had a conversation with a woman at a mall I visited in Ørestad, and this woman remarked about the many international students (Americans) she has seen coming and going during her years in Copenhagen. She even was familiar with DIS, making her the first local I met who was familiar with this! What fascinated me about my interaction with her was that in her years, she has not once had a conversation with a Mexican. She knew nothing about us other than the fact that “Trump hates [us].” She remarked how my style of clothing was different than the other students she has spoken with, mentioning that she could “spot an American simply by their clothes.” Apparently, she suspected I was American but didn’t know my ethnicity, which pressured her into asking to appease her curiosity. What I really loved, though, was that she asked me more questions than I could ask her because she mentioned there was a similar theme to questions others have asked her whenever she made an effort to interact with the international students and contribute to their experience, but to her, they seemed disingenuous; saying they felt script.
“They always asked the same questions to which I always gave the same response. It became boring and unencouraging to speak with them sometimes because, well… They may have been in different bodies but they were all the same! I was beginning to wonder if they really cared about who I was as a person or if it was just an American thing to do to ask these standard questions but not do anything more with them.”
So the majority of the time she wanted to know more about me, and why I was here: Why Copenhagen? Why neuroscience? What did my parents do? Was I happy? She actually wanted to know about my happiness. I answered saying that I always pursue being happy no matter where I am, but it is difficult when you are in a community that either doesn’t accept you or care to. She wanted me to elaborate, and she listened as I told her about being in DIS as a first-generation, low-income student, and this brightened her fascination with me because not only has she never spoken with a Mexican before, but she never talked about socioeconomic status with international students nor did she know what it meant to be “first-generation.”
It was an inspiring moment—albeit a brief one—but a moment that reminded me why I am here: to make the world know that we—the first-generation, low-income, queer, POC, and other marginalized identities—are alive and well. Our stories may not be so common or easily accessible due to our lack of presence in these international spaces, but my hope now is to continue these interactions with the hopes of reciprocating the learning experience, and not being afraid to discuss my story. Just as I hope to learn more about Denmark, Denmark (as well as the rest of Europe) better be prepared to learn more about me.