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May 2nd, 2018
We gathered today for the first time at a Czech restaurant with CET staff for our “Welcome Dinner”. I couldn’t help but notice that there were only 3 people of color in the room, and I was one of them. This came as a bit of a relief as well as a disappointment. I anticipated that I would be the only POC in the room, so I was pleasantly surprised to see other women of color. The disappointment, of course, stemmed from the fact that my expectations of seeing diversity in university programs is already so low.
I couldn’t help but think about my friends – many of which are also people of color – and how much they want to travel abroad. I thought about my friends who were unable to apply simply because they didn’t think they could afford it, even with scholarships and financial aid. The already low enrollment of students of color at the University of Michigan in conjunction with the high cost of these kinds of programs gave upper-class and white students an advantage. The students who can’t afford to travel abroad seem less well-rounded and less cultured on paper than their peers who are able to afford such experiences.
One more thing that I noticed during our dinner was that many students had traveled to Europe before and thought of this as just another trip. This surprised me. This was my first time here and I had always thought of coming to this region of the world as a luxury. Additionally, prior to coming to Prague, we were told that the country is relatively cheap, however as I looked at the prices on the menu, they seemed to be on the more expensive side, according to me. I guess Prague is cheap compared to the rest of Europe, but still a bit expensive for an average middle-class American. I’m excited for the new experiences I will have on this trip, but I’m also a little anxious for the next three weeks.
May 15th, 2018
Today was an odd day. Normally, on the first day of Ramadan, I spend my day with my immediate and extended family and hear the phrases “Ramadan Mubarak” and “Dua Maa Yaad” (remember me in your prayers) almost every five minutes. Rather, I’m in a country where only .2% of the population is Muslim, and on the first day our tour guide already told us that Islamophobia is rampant throughout the country. Furthermore, today is Nakba, the day that marks the start of many Palestinians being violently removed from their homeland. On this day, when I am thinking of my Muslim identity the most, I am surrounded by people – my peers – who shift uncomfortably and avoid eye contact when I mention the recent news of 28 Palestinians killed and thousands injured in Gaza by Israeli military forces.
When I applied to this program I knew it would fall during Ramadan. However, I wasn’t prepared for the sudden homesickness I feel after realizing that nobody here even realizes that this holy month has started. My non-Muslim friends from home text me Ramadan Mubarak, but no one around me has even acknowledged it. I wonder if they know that 22% of the world has entered a month of spiritual month of fasting. We had a guest lecture last week on attitudes towards minorities in the Czech Republic. The data was split into four groups: those that Czechs had negative feelings about after having personal interactions, those that Czechs had negative feelings about without ever having a personal interaction, those that Czechs had positive feelings about after having personal interactions, and those that Czechs had positive feelings about without ever having a personal interaction. Unsurprisingly, Muslims fell into the second category – most Czechs had never had a personal interaction with a Muslim, yet they had the most negative reactions to this entire population of people.
I don’t really look Muslim from just a first glance and I generally avoid telling people my religion in an attempt to protect myself from any negative stereotypes that they might have. Despite knowing this, I didn’t prepare for how deeply this would impact me. I am 7,000 kilometers away from home and spending all of my time with a group of people who don’t understand the significance of this day for me. It wasn’t a bad day – I learned a lot and explored more of the city, but it was the oddest (for lack of a better word) first days of Ramadan I’ve had.
May 23rd, 2018
As I return home from Prague, I’d like to take a few moments to reflect on my three weeks here. Our class on nationalism has pushed me to look at politics in the United States from a different lens. We learned about how the history of the Czech Republic has been dotted with nationalist views against Germans and Slovaks. This narrative was very new to me as I am used to viewing nationalist politics through a racialized lens. When I hear the word nationalism, I think of angry white people who fear people of color entering their country (even if some of those people of color have been in the United
States longer than they have).
However, in the Czech Republic, nationalism was defined by language, geography, and nationality. Racialized discrimination did occur, especially against the Roma and Vietnamese populations in the country, but nationalist views mainly grew out of fear of people who looked like the Czechs, but spoke a different language or lived in a different area. This new perspective on nationalism is very interesting to me. As I prepare to write my senior honors thesis on minorities within our democracy in the United States, I know that I will be able to bring this new perspective into my writing.
Furthermore, I believe my identities have contributed to my own nuanced understanding of nationalism in the United States as well as in the Czech Republic. This class pushed me to expand my definition of nationalism and identify how it manifests differently in countries with different underlying, systemic problems. The United States has a long history of slavery and discrimination against people of color, and thus this taints our understanding of race relations today. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, is dealing with their history of communism and Nazi rule, and thus this impacts the way they interact with minority populations. This study abroad program has helped me understand the importance of understanding a country’s history before trying to analyze their present and I hope to incorporate this into my senior honors thesis.