It Took Leaving to Teach Me

Synclaire Butler was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and is now a junior at Spelman College. She majors in Comparative Women's Studies and Sociology/Anthropology.  She is currently studying abroad in Amsterdam, Netherlands through SIT's International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender program. Upon graduating, Synclaire plans on enrolling in a dual degree program to receive her JD and PhD. 

Looking back, I remember one of the reasons why I chose to attend Spelman College. At the time, I noticed how the institution boasted creating daughters of global engagement. When I arrived to campus as a student, I payed attention to several of my Spelman sisters who took the step to go abroad. Likewise, I longed for that study abroad glow I felt so many of my sisters returned with after completing their trips. They seemed to have completed inspiring self-affirming journeys achieved through moments that brought humility and taught them how to deal with challenges gracefully.

For myself, I remember when studying abroad first became a tangible opportunity. Once I received notice that I was granted the opportunity, I made a list of things I wanted to work on internally and intentionally. Firstly, I wanted to care less about how people perceived me. Secondly, I wanted to work on not yearning for other people’s validation. Lastly, I wanted to become more confident in myself and my abilities, from the curl pattern in my roots, to the trembling of my least spoken words. Without a doubt, all of that has happened since going abroad. However, not in the way I thought it would.

I am at the midpoint of my study abroad program in Amsterdam and just finished spending two weeks in Morocco. I did not imagine this to be my study abroad experience at all. One thing I do understand more and more everyday is how easy it is to think of so many aspects of our lives as monolithic experiences, and studying abroad being one of them. When I saw pictures of students away, it painted a picture of them having to live in “developing countries,” meeting with the people native to that land, and challenging themselves to go outside of their comfort zones. After, I would sit and reflect on how I am in a very Westernized country and in the same classroom everyday with 24 other American students. Was the study abroad experience not what I believed? Nevertheless, these observations have brought me to realize that each study abroad experience is unique to the individual. In my case, I attempted to bargain with God and believe there was another path greater than the one He intentionally set me on. Through a great deal of self-reflection, I see that where I am now is where need to be and meant to be. God and the Universe have lead me here because it is an intrinsic part of my journey. So much time was wasted on focusing on wanting rather than appreciating, accepting, acknowledging, and experiencing. The study abroad experience I am having now is a growing one, as I see the ways in which other people view me and not care if I am too strong for their pallet. I have learned how to shine beyond my adversities. I have experienced how loneliness can be healing. I have learned how to value and LOVE myself better for all that I have to offer this world in a way that only I can. At a certain point, I realized I had to stop running up the same walls that are not mine to break down, but rather take a step back to continue on my path knowing there are doors waiting for me to open.

Studying abroad has helped me put so many of my experiences and my identity into perspective. On campus, I was known a lot for my work on sexual violence, which I loved. Nevertheless, I often struggled to find my own identity that goes beyond just a chapter of my entire story.

Since being away for the past couple of months, there were so many instances in which I simply felt like giving up. Sometimes, I felt alone, especially when dealing with racism abroad. In one instance, I was mistaken as an immigrant, which led to an immigration stamp being placed in my passport. I also faced marginalization in the classroom due to the intersections of being a black woman. Even though there are some hardships throughout this process, everyday I realize how much peace I have found in being alone. I grasp how much growth and confidence I have gained as a result of picking myself up and standing up for myself. At the end of the day,  I can surely say that making the decision to study abroad has been one of the best  I could have made.


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