Hey all. My name is Pandora White and I am a 4th year chemistry doctoral candidate at the University of Alabama. I have been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Research Grant to Poland for the 2016- 2017 cycle. Currently, I am less than 30 days away from my scheduled departure. I am currently engaged in packing and preparing for departure. So, I will tell you my thoughts about this process.
First of all, let me inform you of some of my traits that heavily influence my packing process. I am an African American with natural hair, plus size, and a solo traveler. In America, this may not seem like a big deal. However, when it comes to other countries this seems to be an incredible mixture of traits. I have travelled abroad to 7 countries and have spent months in a few of them. So while preparing to depart, I always ask myself these questions:
- Will my race/nationality cause a problem? In countries like Jamaica or Ghana where the majority of the population are members of the African diaspora, I did not have any problems with race. However, in some of the other countries I’ve visited, I felt my blackness. People stare at me, take photos of me, or ask me tons of questions. So in general the normal responses I get when people see me are:
- In some countries I have travelled to, some people have not seen African Americans and they want to document it in some way. Some people ask to take my photo and sometimes they just do it without permission. It makes me feel like I have my own paparazzi. I have started taking photos with the people who ask to take my photo to document it. I generally respond kindly to these requests, and the people leave me alone. Here are a few photos of this:
- Confused/ Misinformed/Ignorant. These people are generally not a problem. They just do not know of my culture, history and how to approach me. I consider those as teaching moments, but sometimes they anger me. Recently, I was in the Philippines and a guy from Amsterdam asked me “Why are Negroes in America so violent?” This was during the time when BLM protests were happening all around America. Instead of responding angrily, I explained to him the events that led to the protests and hopefully that influenced him not to think that African Americans are violent.
- Anger/racism. Although, I have never had anyone openly attack me. I have had a couple of altercations. I am always concerned about racists.
- What to do about my hair& skin?A lot of study abroad programs tell you that you can just pick up shampoo anywhere so you do not need to pack it. However, in my case I cannot do that. My hair is all natural. A lot of the things I use are not available in certain countries like Taiwan. In those instances, I make my hair care and skin products from raw ingredients. So I have been compiling recipes and gathering some of the ingredients that may not be readily available such as Shea butter.
- Will they have clothes my size? Being both plus size and tall in America, there are specialty stores and tons of options which makes it easy for me to find clothes. However, in some countries like India and Japan, they don’t sell clothes in my size. I had to rely on what I brought with me and in some cases hire a tailor/ seamstress to make my clothes. So right now, I’m thinking about what is the most durable and versatile clothes I can pack.
- Is it safe and are there rules for women that I should know? Knowing the appropriate dress code for women can help a lot in some places. I do not want to receive unwanted attention because my shorts are too short. So I pay attention to that. In some places, it is uncommon for single women to rent apartments which makes it difficult to find apartments. In general, I just rely on instincts but I also research the country.
I have tons of anxieties about going to Poland, but I am also looking forward to all the new adventures that may befall me. I will post my detailed packing list closer to my departure date. If you have any questions or comments, please post a comment.