IES Abroad Program: Milan - Liberal Arts, Fall 2006
U.S. College/University: Amherst College
Major: Women & Gender Studies
Current Profession: "I am a fashion consultant. Through my company I've worked with brands and people like Michelle Obama, Avon, InStyle, and Beyoncé, Double N Rich Creative Consulting, a 360-degree experience from production to styling and press outreach, individual styling services from closet overhauls to red carpet preparation, and editorial and styling services to publications. I'm also a travel journalist and blogger at 'N A Perfect World, a curated intersection of travel, food, fashion, & geopolitics inspired by the global-citizen lifestyle of the millennial. I aim to empower young people, especially those of color, to travel as I believe it is through exploring the world that we will bridge cultural gaps and misunderstandings. We are all ambassadors.
What words would you use to describe your identity(ies)?
I am a black American woman with West Indian roots, and I'm a global citizen. Speaking Italian (thanks IES Abroad), Spanish, and a little French, I've made my home between NYC and Europe.
What motivated you to study abroad?
Studying abroad in Milan, Italy, over a decade ago, was such a transformative time for me, and probably changed the trajectory of my life. I went to a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, and I absolutely loved it. I had a great group of friends, and my classes were great, but something was missing. I needed something different and seized the opportunity to study abroad. Although I'd traveled before, I never LIVED abroad. My favorite book growing up was an atlas. An avid reader, I devoured stories set around the world and knew I wanted to travel and see as much as I could. My family, especially my grandmother, instilled in me the importance of seeing the world outside of Brooklyn, New York. Luckily, my college, Amherst, whole-heartedly encouraged it, so a large percentage of the student body went abroad for their junior year for at least a semester. It finally seemed truly feasible.
When you studied abroad, did your identity(ies) influence your experience in significant and/or surprising ways? If so, how?
Yes! I studied abroad during a period (that we thought) was an intense political climate. It was during the George W. Bush administrations with many European cities leaning left, much like the U.S. coastal cities. In Milan, at the time, it was no different, and opinions were very prevalent on the war in Iraq. One of my closest friends from the program, who I traveled with a lot, was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jewish young woman from Chicago. In social settings, when it came out that we were American, I was never asked "did you vote for Bush?" while my friend was—and more often than not, she was asked in a negative, or at least snide, way. Being black American and furthermore, from New York, acted as a sort of political shield at times!
And vice versa, when you studied abroad, did your experience influence your identity(ies) in significant and/or surprising ways? If so, how?
Along those same lines but on another note (and this is something I've seen more in later years of being abroad): if you are a child of color or a child of immigrants, it might be tricky navigating your role in the U.S. right now. Having the experience of study abroad opens up the world to you. People often say, during this divisive climate here, that "we're all American." Maybe you're African American, West Indian American, Mexican American, etc., a lot of times abroad you're just American, and you're YOU. Isn't that refreshing?
Has studying abroad impacted your educational and/or professional aspirations or path? If so, how?
I knew that travel needed to be a part of my job. Initially, I used fashion as a caveat for this. I worked for companies with a significant international presence or had their headquarters overseas and eventually, I forged out on my own and began working with introducing international designers to the American market. This travel turned into travel writing as well, and travel writing turned into my blog. Studying abroad ignited a strong desire to not just learn about other cultures, but immerse myself in them. The experience ultimately became the beginning of a pattern for me, where travel is my antidote to the complacency of everyday life. Now, being abroad, whether studying or living, reminds me of and connects me to my best self—not just as a tourist but as a cultural exchange ambassador. And the best part is, we all have this opportunity.
What experiences or skills gained from studying abroad continue to influence your life now?
Sure, I had gone off to summer camp before. I went away to college, but never felt as independent or truly on my own as I did when studying abroad. There was no PayPal or QuickPay; I had to handle my budget and deal with Italian bureaucracy, myself. It was at times trying, but mainly freeing.
In one sentence, tell students who identify similarly why studying abroad is a good idea, particularly for them.
Studying abroad will truly open up the world to you. You will return to the U.S. with a world perspective, coping mechanism and a true sense of responsibility.
Share one of your favorite memories from your time abroad.
I think seeing Venice for the first time was a great trip and a great memory. I bonded with someone who would become a dear friend to me. It was fall, so it was pouring rain in Venice. It was gloomy and romantic. We walked around, popping into cafés, laughing about how romantic Venice was, even in the rain, and we were happy to be there together. That way, the memory will never be ruined by a breakup. The photo I shared below is from that day. I was absolutely giddy in gloomy, rainy Venice.
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