In 1936, the first copies of The Negro Motorist Green Book were published to help African-Americans traveling the country to find the safest places to eat, sleep or even get a haircut. Eighty years later, African-American Millennials are experiencing the progress provided by our ancestors and traveling the world without a need for the Green Book. The more young African-Americans travel, the more leaders are created with better practices and solutions for our local communities at home.
According to the Nielson Report, there are 11.4 million African-American Millennials in the United States. They account for 25 percent of the overall African-American population. There are many young Millennials who are going out there and living the dream. We all have different stories, methods, reasons and thoughts about actually traveling and living abroad, and we have all been successful. As young travelers, we have been blazing new trails and making inroads into a better tomorrow.
But more than just leisure travelers, we are actually talking about “expats,” short for expatriates. The original definition of an expatriate is: one who is exiled from his or her native country. Over the years, the meaning has changed to one who simply lives outside his or her native country for an extended period of time. Expats do not take intermittent week- or month-long trips to another country; we live there for a year or more.
Expat Steven Ballard caught up with some other young people who have spent several years outside of the United States and talked with them about their experiences.
Almost everyone has fears of going abroad. Trent Lawrence’s fear was that he would get ill in a foreign land and no one would help him. All fears are rational and logical, but the one thing that all of the young millennial travelers have in common is that they went on and braved their fears and made it abroad.
One common fear that people tend to have is that they think they will not be understood. The theory that you have to speak the native language in order to go to anywhere that is not the United States and the United Kingdom keeps some people from going to the exotic places of their dreams. The truth of the matter is that a lot of countries already have some level of English in their lexicon. Similar to how we have to learn a second language in the States, most countries have their students learn a second language, which tends to be English.
“Turkey. I feel like more people there spoke English, at least in Istanbul. And my experience with Turkish people too…a lot of them are more worldly and have traveled abroad,” said Nika Bowens.
Another fear is fear of the unknown. The old saying, “the evil that you don’t know is scarier than the evil that you do,” comes into play with a lot of us and it keeps us from moving forward.
“I think that I was scared of…just being a teenager and not being around something so comfortable. [Not] being around my family, [not] being around my friends and [not] being able to hang out with them when I want to,” said Elicia Bibbs
To conquer the fear, these traveling millennials say: Look at travel as a new opportunity to discover. Break outside of your comfort zone and be willing to look at new places with open eyes. You will not be disappointed.
According to The New York Times Magazine in 2014: “One in five people in their 20s and early 30s is currently living at home with his or her parents. And 60 percent of all young adults receive financial support from them.” This is one option to help save and finance future travel ventures. So many countries and so many flights, our young travelers found different ways to pay.
“…[Some of my] trips were financed through programs. For example, I was selected to participate in a program called the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations which basically chooses 24 fellows from around the world and I was one of two [North] Americans chosen for this program and they basically paid all of our expenses…” Lawrence said.
“I had a savings account and I realized I needed to stop spending money…I would also look at the cheapest times to fly there…” Bowens offered.
“I am the first person in my family to travel abroad, but I was given the opportunity through this wonderful organization call HighSight which gives underprivileged youths scholarships…, ” said Bibbs.
“The phrase it takes a village comes to mind. I didn’t just pay nor did I save. My trips were and are a culmination of a lot of people’s efforts. This includes my parents, my parents’ friends, and myself, ” said Ballard
There are many different ways to generate the finances needed to go abroad. You can do like Lawrence and Bibbs and find a program that will meet your needs. Bibbs was also a legal secretary and she spent a lot of her time doing what Bowens did– saving money and looking for the right opportunity to go abroad. Or you can ask for help. Success is often a group effort consisting of many moving parts.
Being people of color in America is definitely not an easy task. We have to objectively make a lot more conscious and subconscious decisions just to ensure survival. So, what about abroad? Is it worth spending all of that time, effort and money just to go some place to possibly be treated as badly as you are at home for no cost? We asked our young travelers did they think being Black would have negative repercussions in other countries?
“Oh definitely! Especially coming from America with our mindset being about ethnicity…but you know you have to have a different mindset when you go to other countries because they weren’t raised the way we were raised…” said Bibbs.
“Definitely the first time around. Especially being from Chicago and seeing how they do us all kinds of dirty on the news. I was worried that I would be seen as the new Black threat in China,” Ballard added.
It has been our experience that the world sees us and treats us much better than our own country. Not only is it okay to be Black in other countries, it is often a good thing. The citizens of other countries empathize with our struggle of being people of color in America.
“It’s funny because in Turkey I was actually treated very well. I mean they had some anti-American sentiment, but they would say point blank. ‘This is how we feel about White Americans,” Bowens said.
“I hate to say this, but I feel Spain was way more open, I felt way freer in Spain than I ever felt in America…” Bibbs said.
“I have never felt as much unconditional love simply for being Black from non-blacks as I did in South Korea,” Ballard offered.
While we are in the beginning stages of what looks to be a turbulent presidency, it is important to remember that the world sees us as African-Americans. The world is filled with decent human beings who are understanding. As a Black person you are more likely to be pitied abroad than you are to be feared. There may be instances where natives of another country ask you about the cop shootings that have actually plagued our people. You might see that your indignation will be followed with their indignation.
Of course, sometimes you will get the occasional prejudice because the world is not always fair. In some other countries where they do single you out for having Black skin, it is because of their preconceived notions of Africans. Once you show them your American identification, you may receive preferential treatment.
Each of the travelers has been on an amazing journey to many places across the world. One thing we all agree on is that you owe it to yourself to go abroad. If you don’t have the money, save, ask or both. Don’t be afraid of being Black abroad. Chances are being an African-American will work in your favor in another country. Afraid of the unknown, embrace change and realize that change is good.
“Changes aren’t made by patterns. The only way to change your situation is to do something you might not be comfortable with,” said Bibbs
“One thing a friend once told me is: The best is yet to come,” said Lawrence.
“Just because you [may] have instances of racism, it should not discourage you from having such a great experience,” said Bowens.
“A mentor once told me that life is like a blank canvas and everything you do in your life will add another color to that canvas. So I say you owe it to yourself to make the most vibrant art piece possible.”- Ballard
Living abroad expands the mind. Young African-Americans should travel the world to expand their perspectives past the current climate in America. New perspectives will help us improve our own lives.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
Steven Ballard is a Global Teacher of English as a second language. He has a travel blog called Steven Worldwide. His goal is to encourage more African-American Millennials to live abroad.
The New Young Black Expats: A Conversation With Millennials Who Live Abroad was originally published on chicagodefender.com