In a new series of articles, black women living outside of Europe share their views from the other side. In our first article, Lorraine Spencer recalls her studies abroad.
In 1981, many of you were not even born. But I was 16 years old about to embark upon a sojourn as a summer exchange in what was then West Germany. I was only one of 5 black exchange students in the entire state of Indiana with the Youth For Understanding program. I had completed a short program in Saltillo, Coahuila Mexico the previous summer speaking Spanish. Now I was looking forward to speaking some Deutsch.
I had known about the trip months ahead of time but there was suddenly a strike that threatened my trip. The Air Traffic Controllers were grumbling and YFU sent out a letter to the students that our exchanges could be affected. I didn’t understand fully what was going on, but President Reagan squashed it and the trip was back on. So the time came and off I went to Germany.
I survived my first plane ride only to get to West Germany and get lost on the train. I did not get off at Rosenheim where my host family was waiting for me. That stop was actually the last stop in Germany so I went straight through to Salzburg, Austria. I felt too much time had passed so I asked someone. Then I got the news. I didn’t panic, after all what go would calling my mother thousands of miles away do? I just got off at Salzburg, bought a return ticket and waited. I didn’t have to wait too long. My host family drove over to get me. I wasn’t that hard to find. That was my first of many adventures.
I spent time in Bayern but most of my time was with a family in Saarland. I also had the opportunity to visit Denmark twice, Austria another time on a family trip, and France. I had a grand time in Germany making friends with whom I still keep in touch. One of my good friends told me that I always had something going on with me when I was there. She said, “Met dir war etwas immer loss.” I was a little diva, spoiled brat I admit, looking back I would not change much at all. Culture shock, language barriers and personalities aside, they loved me. Who would have known that all these years later I still reflect on the enriching experience I had? I have passed this international travel bug to my own daughter who wishes to go to Japan.
Sadly, not many black Americans take advantage of opportunities to travel abroad. By far there are many more black women (and people in general) going abroad now more than ever, but a simple unscientific poll will reveal that the number still remains low. I will always advocate for young black women and girls to study or travel internationally. It may open up a world of opportunities. I look at members of my own extended family who cannot imagine leaving their own states let along traveling abroad for anything. Still for those who have the bug, longing, desire, inhibitions, etc., they will find a way to get to where they want to go and be richer for the experience.
Here are just a few of the myriad of exchange programs for high school and college students to explore. A little research may uncover high school, university, religious and volunteer exchange abroad programs. You may also consider hosting a foreign student. My family hosted a student from Germany in our home when I returned.
Youth For Understanding
American Field Service
International Student Exchange Programs
Lorraine Spencer is a relationship coach and is the founder of Swirling and Marriage™. Although she writes for several genres, Lorraine loves children’s books and is in her element writing poems and adventures for children. She holds an M.S. in Human Resources Management and Development from National Louis University (1997) a B.S. in Western Language and Literature from Excelsior College (1993) an A.A degree from the University of Alaska (1991).
When not coaching, writing or doing research, Mrs. Spencer spends time with her husband Joe, and children Elijah and Charlotte who served as her inspiration.
Next month Nicole Brewer recounts her experiences teaching abroad.