Now, let me fill you all in on what I've been up to. 6 months is a long time to sum up in one post, so I'll be dividing it into 3 parts. See the "6 MONTHS LATER..." category on the right side of this webpage for other posts.
FALL 2015: PRAGUE
After my summer in Japan, I headed to an entirely new part of the world: Eastern Europe. Last year, I resolved to study film production in the city of Prague in the Czech Republic during this fall semester. I'm still amused at the randomness of this decision. It was a program I heard about in passing from someone I barely knew, and I sort of shrugged my shoulders and went, "why not?" I knew nothing about Prague. However, I convinced myself that it was an opportunity to learn, I jumped into the experience almost completely blind.
What was to follow would be the most difficult 3.5 months of my entire life. There were many contributing factors to the roughness of my semester, but I will discuss here a large component: racism. Culture shock is a significant part of studying abroad-- I knew this from studying and working in Japan. But I must admit, I was utterly unprepared for the amount of racist encounters I would experience in Europe.
I would be waiting for a tram, and a guy would come up to me and ask the usual, "where are you from?" This is something I'm used to. So I look him in the eye, and say "America." But then, he looks at me straight back and says, "Oh I'm sorry, I'm confused. I thought you are from Asia because of your eyes." Oh. Alright. Not unheard of. But, geez.
I would walk into a room, and a man points at me and my friend (who happens to be from China) and tells us "You guys are all around the place! There are too many of you." We are initially confused. He asks us in what city were were from. She says Beijing. I say Tokyo (where I was born). He says, "That's why! You are from the cities, that is why your ideas are limited! You need to go more to the countryside. Expand your mind." ... Okay... what?
I would be dancing in a club, minding my own business. I go get a drink, and as I walk by, some guy grabs me from behind... and then disappears into the crowd. I try to ignore it. Another night, dancing, I am approached by a man from behind again. I cringe. Without even changing his expression, he quickly moves on to the next Asian girl close by. Oh god.
I could go on, unfortunately, but I won't. These experiences made me feel objectified, unsafe, and somehow ashamed. And when I discussed it with other female students of color, they relayed to me that they had all-too-similar experiences. It goes without saying, but a part of the purpose of this racial project is to put this truth out there: racism does exist, and racism is a big deal. And too often, it comes in tandem with sexual violence.
Because I wanted to discuss this issue, this post sadly turned out to be a negative one. However, perhaps because it was such a hard time in my life, I finally feel like I have grown as a person a little bit. I learned about a lot of things, and traveled to a lot of places. Most importantly, I made lifelong friendships. And during times of depression, I would often walk the city I was blessed enough to live in. Prague is such an incredibly beautiful and culturally rich city. Despite my encounters with racism, I was indescribably sad to leave it. I even cried on the plane! This semester will always be an important part of who I am, and the life I will go on to live.