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Toni Ocloo

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Political Science Major; Spanish for the Legal Professions and Studio Art Minor
Program: IES Barcelona Fall 2022 Political Science & International Relations Program
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Term: Fall 2022


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I chose to study abroad because I wanted to have the opportunity to experience another culture for an extended period of time. More specifically, as a Spanish minor, I wanted the opportunity to improve my Spanish fluency and knew that studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country would provide the best pathway for achieving this goal. I ultimately selected my program because it fulfilled a multitude of my study abroad desires. Firstly, the program offered classes in my major and I would be able to receive some credit back to UNC. Secondly, my program was in a location I preferred (I ultimately chose Spain not only due to it being a Spanish-speaking country but also due to its location in Europe which offered additional travel opportunities).


What did you learn about yourself?
I learned a lot about myself through this experience. Mainly, I learned that I am more independent and capable person than I realized. Many of the anxieties that one would typically have before studying abroad didn't really hit me until I actually arrived at my destination. The fears of being a foreigner in a foreign land, not knowing anyone in my program beforehand, or going without the familiar aspects of my usual life had all been supplanted by my initial excitement. Finally, on the first day of the program I had felt so anxious and out of place that I almost felt like I had made the wrong decision to study abroad. While my anxieties were valid, they were over-exaggerated. I underestimated my ability to be an adaptable and open-minded person. Whether it was figuring out the metro line, making friends from different universities in class, or successfully communicating in Spanish with my host mother, I took on every challenge head on. Over the course of the program, I realized that time and experience was all I needed to become more comfortable. We don't get better at something unless we try, and sometimes that simply takes time. A more poignant realization during my time abroad was that I truly enjoy encountering and engaging with other cultures. I loved being in a metropolitan area were I could meet people in my day to day from other countries. I truly enjoyed this, and it is currently making me consider working abroad in the future.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from my program was our weekend excursion trip to Andorra. Not only did this trip provide the opportunity to explore another country with relevance to our programs main location (Barcelona/Catalonia), it presented a great opportunity to meet and connect with other students in the program. Many of those who I met on the trip would ultimately become some of my closest friends who I am still in touch with after the program. I was also able to engage in activities that I tend to shy away from or don't typically have the time or opportunity to participate in, like hiking and going to spas.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Firstly, I would advise keeping a list or simply keeping in mind a multitude of familiar contacts/family/close friends who you can vent your frustrations, uncertainties, or even excitements to while abroad. It helps a lot to speak with a familiar face or voice when we encounter challenges, and this exercise may provide that extra feeling of warmth and comfort that can help propel us forward in our journey. Secondly, I would advise being less hard on and more patient with ourselves. Depending on where we travel to, there might be significant language, cultural, or academic obstacles that we will have to overcome. I think giving ourselves a bit of grace is essential to having a positive experience. Things will not always be easy. In fact, some experiences will be challenging. However, keeping an open mind and even recalling why we wanted to study abroad can allow us to make the most of our experience.


How do you identify?
Student of color


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
I can't name a specific time because I feel that my identity as a woman of color is always influencing my experience. Particularly, in Barcelona but in Spain as a whole, there aren't many black people. People will stare at you, but I've also learnt that this staring phenomenon is not exclusive to people of color. There will be times when you will question whether what you experienced was racially motivated or simply just a bad experince. The conundrum of being a person of color and an American is difficult to locate at times. There is an intersection of privilege and marginalization that I experienced while abroad. Overall, I had a positive experience, but I will be honest and say that there will be moments were you question a lot about yourself and your perceived understanding of your experience. In an odd way, it isn't any different from our experiences in the U.S. It is navigating the line between culture/ignorance vs disrespect that can be tough for us who are foreigners in another country.


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
My biggest piece of advise would be to not let negative experiences that we have heard about or even encountered ourselves prevent us from attempting to have a new and positive experience. More over, I think that we should not deny ourselves the opportunity to explore the world as people of color. Racism, prejudice, and discrimination occur worldwide. There is no denying that, and there will be many times we will unfortunately have to take precautions to secure our own safety. Nonetheless, there are many great people and many great places we could also encounter when we take the chance. Further, we might even encounter networks or communities of color while abroad that can help us navigate our experiences in both enjoyable and safe ways.


If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
I typically could turn to my friends of color that I made through my program, and we would have discussions about our experiences taking into account our racial perspectives. It helps to know that you are experiencing similar things as your peers or that you are having the same questions. I think finding a community of people who are willing to listen is imperative.