We all know the benefits of traveling: exposure, vacation, yadda yadda yadda… but what about the inherent history lesson that sometimes plays out before you? When I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago I was reminded of a little known (at least to me) piece of history – that Suriname is a Dutch colony. Now, I’m sure I learned that in high school at some point, but reading a textbook and looking at a map showing arrows connecting all of the colonial empires just didn’t last long in the “long-term memory” of my brain.
Most of the Black people I met in Amsterdam were Surinamese, which really caught me off guard because that is not a country you hear about often. (By the way, Suriname is a very small country on the NE coast of South America.) The 2nd largest group of black people that I ran into were Moroccans. And the varying levels or racism that exist among these groups is another story for another day. Being in Amsterdam at that moment and learning about some of the modern-day effects of colonialism has a much more lasting effect than anything I could read in a textbook. Meeting a young Surinamese man who rarely goes back home and who would be punished for using his local Surinamese language in Suriname instead of Dutch, learning about how the Dutch mine Suriname for promising football (soccer) stars, witnessing the tension between Surinamese-born blacks and other Dutch blacks – all things I could easily wrap my head around now that I’m seeing a history book come to life.
When I was in Milan, I met a lot of Senegalese black people who were actually from Paris and all spoke French. And the effects of the colonialism were all the same. The black country was made to believe they were inferior, stripped of their native tongues, convinced that their schooling had to come from the colonizing country, and brainwashed to believe that their native traditions and native customs weren’t important. The younger generations especially were very disconnected from their home country – sound familiar?
I’m by no means a history professor or an expert on colonialism – I just think its amazing that colonialism is still alive and well today in so many forms (both subtle and overt). I’m only sharing what I’ve learned through my international travels and reflecting on one of the many little thought-about benefits of jet-setting around the world. More than anything it makes me think about my own country and how the effects of colonialism are still manifesting themselves on a daily basis through our media, our education systems, language, and so much more. I also think it’s quite interesting that many of us living in places like Harlem, not realizing that NY itself was a Dutch colony. Not until you visit Haarlem in Holland will many of us make that connection. So travel, if not for the beaches, the statues, and the museums, for the history and to learn a little more about yourself and the place where you live.
And just a sidenote: My favorite part of all this is meeting Black people who are fluent in 3 or more languages – English, their native language, and their colonizer’s language – while I’m still struggling with my 2nd! Just lets me know I have to do better.
What other ways does living history manifest itself in International Travel?
Home school/home town: Howard University/Beltsville (PG County), Maryland
Study Abroad Location and Program: AIFS Grenoble, France (Grenoble École de Management)
When: Junior year, Spring semester, 2006
Why did you choose to study abroad? I feel like always knew I wanted to study abroad. I can’t think of the first time I heard about the opportunity or learned of the possibility, but I remember going straight to the study abroad office the first month as a freshman at Howard and asking what I needed to do. I was told that I was way too early and that I had lots of time to get everything in order! I used that time to figure out how I was going to pay for the program (i.e. scholarships and internships).
Why did you choose your particular city? Ever since I started studying French in high school, I dreamed of visiting France. I figured that this was the perfect opportunity to visit a country I had grown to love in my mind as well as practice the language I adored so much. Originally, like most people, I planned on going to Paris. However, I ended up choosing Grenoble, France because there was a business program there that would allow me to take my international business classed in a truly global environment (the program was small and had students from over 50 countries). I also thought it would be a better environment for me to practice my French since less people would speak English to me around the city than in Paris.
How were the classes? Were they similar or different from the ones at Howard? My classes were amazing. I took classes specific to my international business major such as international marketing and international business law. This was such an awesome environment to take these classes because I had professors from all over Europe with experience in the field as well as a diverse group of students surrounding me. For example, our final international marketing project was done in groups of 4-5 students, each with very different backgrounds. I’m a young African-American woman from a more urban area of the east coast and I was on a team with a Midwestern American female who grew up on a farm, a Russian male, a Mexican female and a Vietnamese-American female. This was by far the most enriching academic experience I had in college.
Click more to hear about the rest of Nikita’s experience! You don’t want to miss it – especially the photos of horseback riding in France! Continue reading