My name is Eliza Beam, and I am a second-year Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) major with a minor in Education. I studied abroad in Ireland during summer 2022 through the Writing 2 Global Seminar. I was excited to have the opportunity to complete a GE over the summer and in a beautiful new country that my great-grandmother came from. While it was an incredible experience that I am incredibly grateful to have, studying abroad in a predominantly white country came with its challenges as a Black and Queer person.
As a joke for myself, I kept a tally in my notes app of how many other black people I saw during my month in Ireland. The total was… a solid 20. I knew not to expect a lot of people of color there but the lack of diversity was still a shock to me. Not only was I usually the only black person in a room during my time there, but I was the only one in my class making me often feel very isolated. When I was given stares of contempt each time I went out, I knew it was because of my skin but most of my peers could not understand. During writing exercises, my classmates would share about how extremely friendly the locals are to them, always saying “hi” and genuinely asking “how are you?” But, I did not experience the locals the same way; the only questions I got asked were about my hair and no one said “hi” unless I was with a white friend. I got angry as I not only felt hate through the locals’ stares, but my feelings of anger and frustration were invalidated by my white peers.
On top of being isolated for my racial identity, I struggled with feeling validated as a nonbinary person. Most people in Ireland had never even heard of “nonbinary” and I did not have the energy to assert my pronouns. I was constantly being perceived as a woman in a way that made me sometimes forget how to validate myself. However, I was less alone among my peers in being part of the queer community. I had many classmates who allowed me to be open about my queerness and were even grateful for my pride as it made them feel more comfortable with being queer themselves.
While feelings of isolation challenged me, I learned to be incredibly grateful for the people around me who helped me feel validated and valued. I became close to a couple of my classmates who were also POC and made me feel less alone. Additionally, I chose to focus more on the locals who were welcoming and kind to me such as a kind elderly monk that appreciated my poetry. While my classmates could not understand my experiences, they were still very encouraging of me and made me feel appreciated. As long as I kept my head up and walked with pride for who I am, there were people that made me feel less alone. I grew to always trust myself and know my worth no matter how some strangers looked at me.
Through the overall experience of studying abroad, I learned the power of being confident in my writing as it allowed me to express myself and assert how I feel. Studying writing in Ireland, I grew to appreciate poetic expressions and the use of language to connect with others. As the class gave me more practice with imagery and symbolism, I began to write more poetry. It was a very useful tool for me to let out the strong feelings I had from experiencing prejudice, missing people from home, and enjoying Ireland’s beauty. I filled up a little purple notebook that I bought from a corner store for two euros with poems and prose about everything from the divine presence of Irish sheep to the mental conflicts of being a black person. I am immensely grateful to have traveled to Ireland for how it made me more in touch with myself as a writer, have a deeper appreciation for the kindness in people, and explore beautiful sceneries outside of my comfort zone.