Student Reflections on Race and Ethnicity Abroad: Fitting In as a Foreigner

Diversity Ambassador Faradis Lindblom

Dear prospective study abroad students,

My name is Faradis Lindblom and I am a senior studying human physiology on a pre-physician’s assistant track. This past summer, I studied abroad in Seville, Spain - an experience that opened me up to new perspectives and allowed me to reflect on my place in the world.

With my tan skin, Arabic first name and Finnish last name, I get asked a lot of questions about my identity in the U.S. Almost every time I am introduced to someone new, I can guarantee I will be asked “What is your nationality?” or “Where are your parents from?” And although I understand that most people mean well and are just curious, there are times that I can’t help but feel out of place in my home country and even home state of Iowa.

When I began to entertain the idea of studying abroad, I questioned how I would be perceived in a foreign country. So often, I am questioned about my identity at home, that I figured that experience would only be heightened in a foreign country. However, during my time in Spain, I found that I was almost never asked about the origin of my name or my skin complexion. The locals seemed very accepting of diversity, and to my surprise, the only time I felt out of place was when I opened my mouth and the locals quickly realized I was “Americano”! Previous to going abroad, I thought that perhaps the Spanish locals would have a preconceived idea of what an American student would look and act like, and perhaps I would not fit it. However, I was never questioned about my identity as an American. The questions I received the most were about my life in America, and the locals were not afraid to ask the hard questions! They asked about my American education, my career goals, how much money I made at my summer job, the American healthcare system, and of course the Trump administration.

To my surprise, the people I met in Spain were very aware and knowledgeable about American culture and challenges facing the United States at the moment. To my embarrassment, I could not say the same for Spain. I quickly learned that I, and many Americans my age, tend to live in a bubble in which we choose not to expand our knowledge of cultures and challenges beyond our own. I am so grateful I was able to have the experience of studying abroad, because I was able to return home knowing that my worldview and willingness to learn about and accept other cultures had just expanded and would continue to for the rest of my life.

Questions about my identity used to annoy me to no end. However, my time abroad allowed me to experience the reality that there is an entire world out there filled with different people, cultures, and challenges- and now I can better understand and embrace the diversity that myself and others bring to the world. If you are looking to grow yourself personally while expanding and challenging your worldview, I highly suggest studying abroad. I aspire to be a physician’s assistant, and I know in my career I will treat patients who may be of a different culture than me, and may not even speak the same language as me or have the same medical beliefs as me. For this reason, I knew it was important for me to open my mind to learning about other values and cultures before I began my career.

The experience of studying abroad was unparalleled by anything I could have learned in a classroom- you just can’t recreate challenging conversations in Spanish, walking down cobblestone streets to class, and eating tapas by Guadalquivir river in Sevilla.

Here’s to the opportunity of a lifetime, and the next adventure!

Faradis Lindblom

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