Almost two weeks ago I traveled abroad for the first time in my life. Over a month ago I applied for my first passport. I had traveled within the United States plenty but never outside it. It wasn’t because I was opposed though. I just didn’t really know how nor did I think it was feasible for me (a big myth that robs many of us). I had family and friends who had traveled the world and shared their rich experiences with me. I was inspired by that but still for some reason felt it was out of reach. Even though I knew people personally who took advantage of international travel, specifically people who looked like me, I knew more of us who didn’t. There are plenty of reasons why we didn’t: lack of funds, disinterest, misunderstandings, and projection of fears from others. I understood it and still do. However, after my trip, the idea of international travel as it pertains to Black folks changed in my mind. I no longer view it as something nice we can do or something we should be open to try. I truly believe it is a necessity. We need to travel internationally.
I will forever be grateful that my first international experience was in Jamaica. To be specific, I spent time in Negril, Montego Bay, and Lucea. The atmosphere was different. The way of life was different. I was truly in awe my entire trip. The lush greenery that painted the island was unlike anywhere I had ever seen, at least in real life. The beach was the same, water clear and calm like I had never seen before. The food was fresh and prepared with care. Everything was so natural. The sunset and sunrise evoked a different level of peace within me. Beautiful is really an understatement. In addition to the beauty of the island, I was in awe by the beauty of its people. The sense of community that was present felt like a family cookout; it was warm and genuine.
Comparing my life in the states to the life I was experiencing in Jamaica reminded me of the importance of cultural humility. Cultural humility refers to the ability to be open to learn from others, realizing a personal vantage point is not a standard, and honoring the culture of others. I wanted to be taught, I wanted to be immersed. I was the stranger there; that humbled me. I adjusted to the speed of things, which meant being patient and present. It gave me the opportunity to take as much as I could in. People who looked just like me being the majority fascinated me. I felt safe to be honest. We took up space at every level. That meant a lot to me. I could go on for a while about my trip but words can’t truly capture my experience and what I felt. However, what I learned can be articulated and must be: Black people must travel internationally and must travel to places where they are the majority.
Before traveling I already knew it would have a huge impact on my life. I knew I would learn about another culture first hand but more importantly I knew I would come back different. I came back with a new appreciation for traveling abroad. It was amazing to see what life means in another part of the world. It showed me how small I truly am, how small my experiences were. Traveling for us is big. It’s life changing. I want more Black people to have passports, to explore the world. I want us to experience things we’ve never imagined. I want us to be cultured, I want us to have stories to bring back to share. I want us to be amazed. I want us to step out of our comfort zones for our growth. These experiences reveal new realities for us.
The biggest takeaway for me personally was that I saw myself everywhere. I wasn’t a minority in Jamaica. I saw the beauty of the diaspora there. I saw that even though we were nationally different, at heart we were so similar. We have to venture to places where we are running our nations, our businesses, etc. It is important for our psyche. How often do you have the opportunity to be in spaces where whiteness is not default? I’m not saying the country is free of flaw or societal issues. But, I am saying there is a ton to absorb beyond that. Traveling abroad let’s us experience the world. Traveling abroad to places where Black folks are in their own element and are the majority, let’s us see ourselves. It reminds me of a similar feeling I experienced attending my HBCU (historical Black College or University), a feeling of refuge. That is a feeling many of us are not afforded living in the United States. It is a blessing to be somewhere you can feel a sense of safety and agency.
If I could make sure every Black person had the opportunity to travel internationally I would. We need to take those leaps and expand our worldview. We need to expand our understanding of others. We need to travel places where we can learn from others and share ourselves as well. It is important for us to see that we are everywhere, majority or not. Black people are everywhere the sun touches; it’s a beautiful revelation. We need to know about cultural practices that differ from our own. It’s refreshing and it’s necessary. I’m a firm believer in experiences being key to expanding our minds. Sometimes we don’t know we can until we see ourselves. Many times, visibility gives us that push we need.