With Freedom Comes Relief

On Tuesday, June 16th, I began my journey toward my second study abroad adventure. It started with a Metro North train ride to NYC. Whilst on the train, I read the letter I received from my step-brother, Christian, who is currently incarcerated. We have been writing for years now, then he got out of jail just to be thrown back in 7 months later.

We talk often about the prison industrial complex and the institutionalized racism that exists in US society: very complex things. But he said something in this letter that triggered an epiphany. He told me that when he was out, he stayed at my house more than I did and that I am always traveling. I took this as a question of why?

My housing demographic is a very interesting one and I, having lived on the New Paltz campus for the past four years, refuse to be in denial of the problematic realities that exist within that environment. Being aware of those realities, seeing how deeply rooted they are, and also, experiencing healthy environments (New Paltz & Cardiff, Wales), I remove myself because I would want things to change which might do more harm than good, really.

But don’t get me wrong, I have my quirks with New Paltz as well, and then, after my experience abroad, I realized it’s so much more than that: it’s the US society. As a black, pansexual woman, there are many ways I am inferior within the United States. Granted there are many ways I am privileged: being a college student, studying outside of the country, being cisgender, etc. Yet, as a human being, I naturally am more conscious of the negative because that’s what affects me most and makes me the least comfortable.

Anyhow, it hit me that I leave home and I have this burning passion to travel because with that freedom, which I crave so deeply, comes relief. So far, from what I have experienced in Europe, I can breathe freely. I mean really breathe. I am firstly a human being in Europe, labels are on the back burner. As a person who identifies as a non-conformist and hates to be confined to boxes and labels, being in an environment where my appearance won’t put me at a disadvantage or where it won’t evoke negative assumptions about me is addicting. It is addicting to be able to walk around freely me, not cautious, not afraid, not less than: equal.

I am not saying that Europe doesn’t have its problems with racism, sexism, or homophobia, but being here one isn’t confronted with it constantly, suffocating because the air is so thick with tension. “I can breathe when I’m traveling, when I’m free and that is such a relief,” I told Christian. I can breathe and I am so excited to take in Prague and all the beauty it has to offer me.

Ja'Lisha, a Creative Writing major with a minor in Black Studies, is studying Summer 2015 at Charles University. This is her second study abroad experience, with her first being in Cardiff, Wales in Fall 2013. She is thrilled to have another opportunity to study abroad and this time she plans to document as much of it as possible.

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