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My Study Abroad Identity

By mlopez97

It’s difficult to confine my identity to a singular sentence, paragraph, or even blog post—perhaps because different parts of my identity become more prominent depending on my environment. I am a biracial woman; I am the daughter of two mothers; I am an atheist, although I was raised partly Jewish and partly Christian; I am from the United States.

Throughout my life, my background has served a source of constant confusion. I had trouble identifying as a person of color (POC) for most of my life because I have not experienced most of the challenges of POCs, as I am half white. There have been moments where my brownness is more present, like when I am in a room of all-white people, but when I am with my friends from home, most of whom are people of color, I feel whiter than ever. I do not know how to check the race and ethnicity boxes on a census nor do I know what it would be like to walk into the Hillel at GW, knowing that I have not been bat mitzvahed and have not grown up in a traditional Jewish household.

My confusing identity has certainly had a frustrating presence in my life, as people are constantly asking “what” I am or where I’m actually from, or denying that I’m Jewish. However, because I live in the United States, there are people around me are going through similar challenges and I have grown up in places where diversity is theoretically celebrated. This has allowed me gain pride in my identity. I will continue to hear the question “what are you?” on a daily basis, but answering that question is certainly easier than what I have experienced abroad.

Because I am half Puerto Rican with Spanish roots, people in Barcelona assume that I am a native and speak to me in Spanish. While my Spanish is decent, I often get flustered and am unable to quickly respond to more elaborate questions. My latina identity is then stripped from me and I feel like a “dumb American.” Now, more than ever, being from the United States is the most present facet of my identity. It is not uncommon for me to hear complaints about Americans. There are, of course, many people who are patient with Americans, but I have never been more aware of how other people perceive my identity. In the past month I have realized how much the United States has affected who I am. Being in Barcelona has greatly reduced my identity to an “American study abroad student.” Hopefully this will evolve as I become more accustomed to my surroundings and improve my language skills because I am so excited to be here.

Here's a picture from my second week in Barcelona! Some friends and I climbed Montserrat, a mountain with a monastery at the top.