CAPA student and Diversity Advocates Scholar Cara Wilson shares her experience on studying abroad twice in London, connecting with the black community and culture in this global city, and finding friendships with those who share her experiences as a person of color abroad.
Coming back to London has been a dream of mine since my first visit back in the spring of 2019. I had the privilege of visiting London for three weeks in the month of May while studying abroad during my sophomore year of college. At first, I was afraid to make the trip, because I’d never been out of the country, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. Luckily, I was going with friends and professors from my university, so my family and I had that sense of security. I ended up really enjoying myself and falling in love with this wonderful city. When I left, my friends and I vowed to come back when we were older and more financially stable. Fast forward two years, and I’m back in the place I fell in love with, but this time I’m on my own.
Now I am a senior finishing my final semester of college in London. Preparing for this semester abroad was stressful for several reasons. The first being that I’ve never been this far away from my family and for this long. Also, this time around I didn’t travel with anyone I knew. This worried my mom of course, and although I didn’t show it, it worried me too. The third reason was not knowing how many students of color would be participating in the program. My home university is a predominantly white institution, and I know what it feels like to be the only person of color or the only black person in the room. I also know how lonely and exclusive these spaces can feel. Dealing with these situations in another country can seem even more challenging at times.
Before I left for my semester in London, my parents sat me down to give me the talk that many parents of color give their kids when they’re going into a new space with a predominantly white demographic. One of the topics we discussed was how to handle a situation where I may have to engage with the police. I had to be ready for anything, and I still am very cautious about what I say and do. These are things many people of color have to think about in any space they’re in, whether it be at home in America or abroad in another country.
When I arrived in London, it was refreshing to learn that the city celebrates their Black History Month in October. I saw it as an opportunity to learn about London’s black culture and also meet other black people in the city and surrounding community. Two of the people I met were black women who were also from America. We hit it off right away! Together we met other people from the community. I got to know these new acquaintances and learn more about them and their careers. It was nice to meet people who understand my experience as a person of color traveling abroad.
The first Black History Month event I attended was a STEM-focused event (a field with very minimal representation of people of color) for black women and men, featuring speakers from the computer science and engineering industries. The event also featured a cabinet member who came in and talked about his journey from councilman to being a part of cabinet. I think this event was so important especially for the younger school aged children in attendance. Sometimes when you don’t see people who look like you in the field you want to go into, it seems like it will be impossible. Seeing someone who looks like you doing things like coding or designing buildings shows children they can do anything if they believe in themselves.
I attended another event that featured a diversity panel at Comic Con. I really related to the topics discussed at this event, as someone who has faced prejudices in the comic book and gaming fandoms. The panel talked about racism and gaming, and how there is often retaliation towards gamers who complain about the racism they experience. They also talked again about the lack of representation, and how they often had to play as the token black characters in games.
Caption: Here is me at comic con with another person dressed as a member of the Teen Titans.
While everyone in both events I attended had to deal with the struggles of representation, prejudices, and racism, there was a great silver lining: they all brought together a community of people who uplift each other and give each other the confidence to live out their passions.
I think community is a huge part of black history and pivotal to our survival through slavery, oppression, racism, and so much more. When we stick together and welcome each other into safe spaces it gives us comfort. The same kind of comfort you get with family and friends.
Black History Month provides us with the opportunity to celebrate culture and community. I am looking forward to attending more Black History Month events, and I hope to meet even more people that I can connect with, because it’s important for students of color to be with people they relate to. Having this has made my experience in London not only fun, but one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.