Finding Black Unity in Italy

“I was focused on two things- Will I be able to make friends and actually have fun here? And, Please let said friends be black!I had three housemates, two that hated me for no other reason than me being black I’m sure. Just my luck….. BUT! fortunately for me all the black…. “

About a year ago during the fall of my senior year of college, I made one of the scariest, yet rewarding decisions in my collegiate career – I chose to study abroad for a semester in Florence, Italy.

Ever since I was young, traveling was one of my biggest passions and I knew I had to take this opportunity to continue seeing the world. I had promised myself that before I graduated college, I was going to study abroad. I didn’t care how expensive it would be, or how competitive the programs were, I just knew I was going somewhere. After fundraising and raising enough money for my trip, I packed my life into two suitcases and set out to what would become my favorite place on Earth.

Once arriving to my new home for the next four months, I was only focused on two things – Will I be able to make friends and actually have fun here? And, Please let said friends be black! I had three housemates, two that hated me for no other reason than me being black I’m sure. Just my luck. In fact, they disliked me so much that they reported me to the dean for having visitors over, and ended up moving out the next week! BUT, fortunately for me all the black students in my program naturally sat in the same section during orientation, so finding my squad was effortless. Within the first few hours of orientation, we’d exchanged Whatsapps, Instagrams, class schedules, and addresses. We’d all quickly realized we shared the same fear of being that random black person, feeling ostracized in a sea of white privilege. Not today though. We stuck together from beginning to end, and I’m eternally grateful for that. This is something we all have to think about as black travelers, whether we’re traveling to Europe or even in some parts of Africa. People will be ignorant no matter where you go. You may or may not face racism, but in the event that you do, try to always have at least one person around that can support you. Some people stared, and some people spoke about us directly in our faces. Try not to let that phase you and ruin your overall experience, because usually your destination has a lot more to offer than a few ignorant assholes. Finding this group of black friends was so crucial for me and I knew I’d always have at least one friend around to have my back if need be. Together, we sprinkled black girl magic everywhere we could, and we wouldn’t let anyone stop us.

Exploring Florence, or Firenze as the Italians call it, was absolutely magical. The city is so rich in culture with historic art and incredible food. Italians have a unique way of making every dining experience feel special and one of a kind. With the simplest ingredients, they create some of the most delicious meals that you will ever eat in your entire life. (No, I am not exaggerating, you can thank me later.)  Aside from the food and ridiculously cheap wine, the locals I befriended were outstanding human beings. They were the sort of people who make you wonder how it’s possible to treat a complete stranger like a brother or sister. When my own racist white roommates gave me hell, my Albanian neighbors welcomed me with open arms and genuinely became great friends. There was always some educational exchange where we’d learn about each other’s home country’s history, music, food and the like. I had the pleasure of explaining what it meant to be a black woman in America, why we didn’t want Trump as president, and so much more. I also made friends with some Senegalese and Nigerians who’d moved to Florence for a better financial future. They showed me just how resilient black and African people are, and I instantly felt connected. I’d never felt more proud to be a black woman in Europe. The friendships I made while abroad grew to be some of the most unexpected, yet memorable bonds to date.

One of my biggest travel tips is to be as open-minded as you can. Don’t throw away unique opportunities because you’re afraid of talking to strangers, or because you think people will judge you. You’re already black in a foreign land, they’re probably judging you anyways, BUT WHO CARES?! When traveling, you’ll quickly learn that you’ve got to put yourself out there. It’s not always easy, especially if you’re an introvert like myself, but I think this is something that makes a trip worthwhile. You paid money and took a chance on this destination, so don’t limit the experience because you’re afraid to live in the moment and step outside your comfort zone. There were tons of times where I purposely got lost after class, and just walked around until I stumbled upon an amazing cafe, or ran into the only Nigerian food market in all of Florence. Yes, of course, safety is a priority – nobody wants to be the star in Taken, but you also have to take some risks when you’re traveling. With sound judgment, faith, and a daredevil spirit, you may create some of your wildest memories that you’ll hold onto forever. Have fun, and good luck!

Jahan Rivers, New York City, USA

Follow Jahan on Instagram : @keepupwithjah

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