Adversity Abroad

Lindzzi Ngati is a junior International Studies and Political Science double major at Spelman College, from Maryland by way of Cameroon. This semester she is studying abroad in Geneva, Switzerland with the School of International Training: International Relations and Multilateral Diplomacy program.  She is conducting research on the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and the impact it has in sub-Saharan Africa. Upon graduating, Lindzzi plans on enrolling in a dual degree program to receive her JD and MIA.

Ever since I choose to attend Spelman College, I have wanted to be one of the global agents of change mentioned as an example of excellence during the institution’s opening convocation. As I reflect on my first year at Spelman, I realize that I surrounded myself with big sisters who set an amazing example for me to follow. They pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone to travel abroad as a freshman, which in turn inspired my determination to study abroad my junior year in Geneva, Switzerland. In preparing for my study abroad experience, I decided I would make a conscious effort to relate with students who did not look like me. However, I did not grasp how difficult this complex journey would be.

I experienced my first incident at the airport. I arrived in Geneva with three participants of my study abroad program, one who is African American and the other two Caucasian. We were exhausted from our flight and were seated in the waiting area. Another participant of our program walked over to the waiting area and greeted the Caucasian participants, but did not greet me or my Spelman sister, the other African American participant. I tried to brush this incident off, but it was only the first instance of me questioning the decision I made to study abroad in Switzerland. I experienced the next incident during the first week of classes. A group of students planned a trip to the beach inviting everyone -- including the only Black male student -- except for the Black female students. I realized at this moment that the effort I put forth to interact with the non-Black students was completely in vain because they did not demonstrate the same effort to interact with me. Their exclusion of the five Black female students, including myself, forced us to form a clique amongst ourselves.

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." - Maya Angelou

Both time and group assignments changed the dynamic of my interactions with the non-Black students. Despite this change, I was still hesitant to interact with my peers because of cultural barriers. I experienced my last incident while on a group excursion. Myself and four non-Black girls were planning a weekend getaway, however they made housing reservations without consulting me. Rather than angrily approaching the students about the situation, I decided not to confront them about the issue. Instead, I approached the situation with understanding. I accepted what happened and learned to appreciate those who are considerate of my thoughts and preferences, unlike the girls with whom I went on the excursion.

The trials I experienced while abroad tested my character in that I lived outside of my comfort zone in Switzerland. My experiences highlight how much I have grown. The way I approached these situations made me realize that this journey was truly a test of my strength. I understand that this feeling of exclusion will one day be my reality after graduating from Spelman, which is why I have allowed it to empower me rather than foster hatred toward those who exclude me. I have accepted that the only group of people who may willingly include me are other Black people.

The adversities I faced throughout my study abroad experience changed my overall attitude toward situations in life. I encourage anyone who studies abroad to rise above those who may knowingly or unknowingly make you feel inferior in any situation. Rise above those feelings of inferiority because you are more than worthy enough to be in the same vicinity. I have learned that loneliness should be appreciated rather than avoided. Reflection was necessary to my survival while being abroad. My experience abroad taught me who I truly am without the attachments of people and comfortable environments.