Growing up the suburbs of Atlanta, I was not a stranger to being the only one that looked like me in my classes. When I got to college, the narrative was the same. Before picking a studying abroad program, I had to research the cultural acceptance of people of color for each country I was interested in. Issues of cultural acceptance or other financial issues cause African-Americans to be among the most under-represented groups to study abroad. Because of this, it was always better to err on the side of caution when it came to picking which country I wanted to study in. This just comes with the territory of being a person of color. In spite of this, being a minority student abroad has not only enhanced my experience but it has also help me with my own personal identity issues.
I knew that once I got to Botswana I would be “invisible”. When Batswana see my skin complexion, they would immediately think of me as their kin-folk. Unfortunately for my CIEE program friends who aren’t invisible, unwanted attention follows them wherever they go. My colleagues are constantly getting marriage proposals, being stared for unnecessarily long amounts of time, and/or getting other forms of verbal harassment. This has made their transition and acceptance of life in Botswana much more difficult. And I empathize. Every girl in Botswana faces some sort of harassment on the daily, so my friends and I could relate to that aspect.
Once people assess me as Motswana, no one really wants to get to know me or hear my story. Constantly being spoken to in Setswana is the biggest disadvantage of being “invisible”. This mostly affects me because of the connotation associated with a Motswana not speaking Setswana. To Batswana, a Motswana not speaking their language comes across as elitist. That was certainly not the impression that I wanted to give off. Once I open my mouth and start speaking English in my American accent, the jig is up. They know I am American. There is a Black American female stereotype that is displayed on reality TV, which is watched by Batswana, so that was another stigma I had to work past. What’s worse is when I tell them that I am actually 100% Nigerian but born in the States. Minds = blown!
“You’re not Motswana? What do you mean you are Nigerian? You were born in the States? And you’ve never been to Nigeria? Lol, what?”, a compilation of common reactions after I explain my situation. These reactions have caused me to question my own identity. In the US, I am too “white” to be “black”/”African”. Here, I am too “American” to be “Nigerian”. Despite the issues that have come up causing me to question my identity, being in Botswana has enabled me to further embrace my African, American, and Nigerian identity. I can relate to my peers because, I too, grew up in a home enveloped in patriarchal values. I am able to learn from my professors about African history and the differences and similarities in cultures that are found throughout the entire continent. The unique experience that I get the privilege to have reinforced the need for me to embrace my identities even more. It is truly a privilege to be different and to stand out. Studying abroad (especially “back to the motherland”) as a minority has given me not only a new perspective on myself but also an insight into what my “African in America” experience meant for other people in the world.