June 04, 2020
My name is Alexander Palines. I am a double major in sociology and politics and studied abroad in Paris and London through UCEAP’s Global Cities Urban Realities program. Studying abroad as a first-generation Filipino-American was both freeing and eye-opening. On one hand, it was freeing because it personally felt like an escape from skin color-based racism commonly found in America. While I was abroad, people would ask me about my experience. I always mention how living in Paris and London felt like “a breath of fresh air from racism”. Although I am aware that racism does very well exist in these cities and throughout their countries, it personally felt like people were more concerned with my nationality than my ethnicity. For example, when I was visiting Disneyland Paris, I was looking for a souvenir that I wouldn’t be able to find at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. After settling on a pair of Simba themed ears with ‘Disneyland Paris’ labeled on the side, I went to the checkout counter to pay for them. After saying something arbitrary in my distinctly American accent, the man behind the counter immediately perked up and excitedly asked me questions about where in America I was from, if I was enjoying my stay in Paris, and other miscellaneous details about the United States. Fortunately, we were at a small shop, so there wasn’t anyone else in line, but we had a chinwag for a long while, yet not once did the conversation come close to the topic of race. This was the first time I fully felt like a true American. Before traveling abroad on my own, I felt like I had the constant task of creating and editing an identity that incorporates my parents’ culture with our host community’s culture as other third-culture kids might feel. I can’t speak for everyone else who feels like they can relate to my situation, but juggling multiple identities can feel isolating and sometimes even contribute to sentiments of imposter syndrome and whether or not you truly fit in with a particular society. Living in Paris and London, even for a short time, helped me combat these feelings and helped me feel more comfortable with my identity.
While I was away, I realized that traveling with groups of people is something I personally find very difficult. Although I made friends with others in my study abroad program, it was hard to settle on doing anything because everyone had their own desires for what they wanted to accomplish while abroad. Many of these people wanted to visit pretty much every other country in Europe like Ireland, Germany, and Greece. I didn’t feel like I could afford that extra travel, and I chose this program specifically as a test of what it would be like to live and work abroad. It has been one of my childhood dreams to live in London, so I decided to try and immerse myself in the culture as much as I could. Because of my opportunity to pursue three internships while in London, cultural immersion didn’t seem particularly difficult. Soon after my first week interning, I already felt like a local. I had all the bus and tube lines figured out and nearly memorized, I dined with colleagues at delectable hole in the walls, and I just generally had a comfortable rhythm going. I was actually able to make a decent amount of friends and colleagues in Paris and London, some of whom I still keep in contact with.
My experience abroad taught me to be a little less shy and a little more daring when it comes to reaching for my goals. Studying abroad was very humbling because it showed me how lucky I am to have the means to achieve one of my childhood dreams, even if only for a quarter. At present, the only thing holding me back from achieving my goals is my stubbornness to avoid my own personal vulnerability to failure. Throughout my time as a college student, I struggled to figure out what kind of career I’d like to pursue. As a child, I was taught that the only desirable jobs were high in prestige and ‘stable’ like doctors or nurses. I decided on double majoring in sociology and politics because I struggled with maths and sciences and hoped to pursue law and give myself extra options if that didn’t work out. After studying abroad, I met so many wonderful people with very colorful lives and ambitions: a French coder hoping to move to Canada to work for a video game company, a vegan chef in a bitter rivalry with another restaurant and a taste for blood, and an aspiring future Prime Minister of the UK. I’ve decided to make myself vulnerable to failure and try my hardest at a career in film, thanks to the people I met while abroad. Since my return, I’ve helped in the production of at least five student short films and have a few more projects in the works. Studying abroad is an experience I’ll never forget and one that I’ll carry with me in my days to come.