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“Beyond the cultural immersion, the most significant impact of living abroad lies in the transformation it has had on my mindset,” writes VOX Media Cafe reporter Amari Thompkins. “I have come to realize that true growth stems from stepping outside of our comfort zones and embracing the unknown.”

The Temples where the movie “Tomb Raider” was filmed, Cambodia 2023. Photo: Amari Thompkins/VOX Media Cafe

Internationally Woke: What Is It Like Being an African American Teen Outside of America?

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Being Black in general is a huge part of who I am. Race is essential for African Americans as a way that we connect to one another, but living outside of the U.S, is a different story. Most people can’t imagine leaving their comfort zone which might be a state or city. I have the opportunity to greatly expand my comfort zone by living abroad. I was blessed with this opportunity by one of the most important people in my life: my mother. Thanks to her hard work and sacrifices, I’m able to live “the good life.” When I was 10, my mom and I moved to Accra, Ghana; then to Wellington, New Zealand; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’m currently 14, moving to Lagos, Nigeria where I will fiinsh out high school. Living and relocating across different parts of the world is truly an eye opener. 

Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, 2019. Photo: Amari Thompkins/VOX Media Cafe

Accra awakened my blackness at the age of 10. With my short sisterlocks, I stepped into a new world, seeing mothers wrap their babies in kente cloth, the sound of pounded yam, the sight of natural hair, radiant skin, and diverse bodies. It was like nothing I had ever seen. All it took was two years in Accra to embrace being a Black girl. Ghana bestowed upon me an invaluable gift of self-embracement that all African Americans should experience.

On-set location shot of where a Lord of the Rings film was filmed in Rotorua, New Zealand. Photo: Amari Thompkins/VOX Media Cafe

Wellington, on the other hand, taught me the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. I learned that I could no longer be the test subject of diversity experiments. I had to navigate uncomfortable situations and confront racism. While going through challenging experiences can be tough, they teach you lifelong lessons from which I have matured. Learning to move forward and not dwell on negativity becomes essential.

Living in Kuala Lumpur was a transformative experience that shaped the core of my being. While Accra lay my foundation, it was Kuala Lumpur that had the greatest impact on me and who I am now. During my time there, I had the opportunity to visit Phnom Penh in Cambodia,​​ Hội an, Da Nang, Hanoi in Vietnam, as well as Seoul in Korea. Each city revealed to me the tendency of African Americans to remain within their comfort zones, highlighting the need for us to embrace new horizons. Not only to see new cultures but reshape our perceptions of people and to debug the stereotypes that America has rooted in us to think. 

Kulua Lumpur, Malaysia in 2022. Photo: Amari Thompkins/VOX Media Cafe

As a young African American girl, being Black outside of America has opened my eyes to America’s flaws. It’s sad to see my home state of Florida attempting to ban the teaching of slavery, one of the most significant events in African American history. By erasing these huge parts of our past, it puts us at a disadvantage of not knowing our history, contributions, and resilience. It’s disheartening to observe that in Black neighborhoods, there’s often liquor stores and fast food restaurants left and right to the point of normalization of high blood pressure and heart attacks. I say all of this to emphasize that there are systemic issues in America that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, these systemic issues exist for Black people in many parts of the world.

An indigenous Mãori watering hole. Photo: Amari Thompkins/VOX Media Cafe

Beyond the cultural immersion, the most significant impact of living abroad lies in the transformation it has had on my mindset. I have come to realize that true growth stems from stepping outside of our comfort zones and embracing the unknown. It is through these moments that we truly discover our own potential and develop a better understanding of the world around us.

 

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