By Lez'li Waller
Oh, The Places You Can Go! With the restrictions on travel lifting, the conversation around where to visit, extended vacations, and even exploration of dual citizenship is in the air. There is no question that many people are feeling the need to see new places with some suffering from severe cases of wanderlust. Global exploration, migration, and extreme vacationing are elements of human nature. For some, the change in scenery the immersive experience of being planted in a different culture language, and architecture is needed to stay rooted in the place they call home. In the world of sociology, it is common to find that some of our biggest thinkers and contributors took advantage of opportunities to become global citizens. For some it was a reprieve from slavery or the oppression of the Jim Crow and civil rights eras, for others it was the freedom to find artistic and sexual liberation. Whatever the reason for the adventure, the majority who have been brave enough to undertake a long-term break from the United States have either found happiness elsewhere or come back with a better understanding of themselves and the country they call home.
Fredrick Douglas, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Maya Angelou are a few who took the leap, some living in Europe, Africa, and South America. These icons credit their time away from the US as the catalyst for finding their identity within their craft or just within themselves. James Baldwin spoke of his time in Paris as not a flight to France but more a flight away from America where he could discover who James Baldwin was without the stigma surrounding what he was a black gay man in America. Baldwin reflects on his decision to come to Paris in the 1961 Esquire article. “I think my exile saved my life, for it inexorably confirmed something which Americans appear to have difficulty accepting. Which is simply, that a man is not a man until he is able and willing to accept his own vision of the world, no matter how radically this vision departs from that of others.” He adds that Paris and Europe gave him “the sanction, if one can accept it, to become oneself. No artist can survive without this acceptance.”(1) Maya Angelou is quoted as saying “If the heart of Africa remained elusive, my search for it had brought me closer to understanding myself and other human beings.”(2) The study of Sociology and adjacent disciplines focuses on the understanding of the development, structure, and functioning of human society and social problems. What better way to be a steward of the discipline than by becoming a global citizen, having a front row seat into the systems of other countries and cultures to compare within your work!
Now I know what you are thinking… Who has the resources to traipse across seas to find themselves? The answer is we all do! By being resourceful an extended stay abroad is attainable for us all. One of the easiest ways to start this journey is a semester abroad. Most major universities will have a study abroad department or international exchange program. Often these programs will have some funding options if money is the concern. Another option for senior year or after graduation is an international paid internship… Yes, these exist! By doing some quick searches on job boards internships for Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom were easy to find. Other options include applying for employment for companies that are internationally friendly and of course, the big leap save those coins, research your destination buy that ticket, and go! Often as Americans, we buy into the myth of living in the land of milk and honey and feel that there is nothing to be gained by venturing out. Many of us never dream of becoming immigrants elsewhere possibly due to the contentious relationship that the United States has with the theory of immigration.
However, the tea is there are an estimated 9 million Americans living that expat life right now!
So where are Americans traveling to:
40% opt for the Western hemisphere — Canada, Central, and South America.
26% move to Europe. 14% head to East Asia and the Pacific — think Australia and New Zealand as well as China and Japan. 14% head to the Middle East.
3% travel to Central or South Asia. 3% choose Africa.(3)
As human beings we are all children of the earth and should aspire to see as much of it as possible in our lifetimes to better understand the planet we live on and the people we inhabit it with. Whether you become a traveling scholar, an avid extended vacationer, or even a permanent expatriate like some of these greats Richard Wright, Kwame Ture, Nina Simone, Josephine Baker; never let fear stop you from experiencing all the world has to offer you. From these experiences, you may return the best gift to the world and that may come in the form of a fully realized individual who has searched and cultivated an identity as a global citizen, working towards the freedoms for all to explore and find their individual Identities.
1. Afs-Usa, “Influential Black Americans Who Lived Abroad: AFS-USA,” AFS, February 1, 2021, https://www.afsusa.org/blog/educators-articles/influential-black-americans-who-lived-abroad-what-they-learned-from-another-place/.
2. Afs-Usa, “Influential Black Americans Who Lived Abroad: AFS-USA,” AFS, February 1, 2021, https://www.afsusa.org/blog/educators-articles/influential-black-americans-who-lived-abroad-what-they-learned-from-another-place/.
3. “Where Are Americans Emigrating to and Why?,” Aetna International, accessed July 9, 2021, https://www.aetnainternational.com/en/about-us/explore/living-abroad/culture-lifestyle/where-are-Americans-emigrating-to-and-why.html.