Stockholm is WHITE, like blonde with blue eyes, white.
I know that is a crazy thing to say, but stay with me as I pour out my heart and share with you how I was still able to find my place in this environment.
I was born and raised in Jamaica, but I have been living in New York for the last few months which has exposed me to a diverse range of races, one being Caucasian. So it is not something new or surreal to me. However, the level of whiteness in Stockholm is unmatched. From my observations these last few weeks, it is top-shelf white here, which is completely fine. No judgment from my end. But as a black Jamaican female raised by a family of immigrants, within the silence and impolite stares I receive, they screech, “Go back to where you come from.”
No one has said this to me; I would share a different story if they did. Instead, it is an unnamed, unexplainable feeling that only a person of color can understand. Even if no one says it, you know when you do not belong when a space is not one you are meant to occupy. In a language I do not speak and from faces I do not recognize, Stockholm told me I am black, and I understood.
I carried on each day, ignoring my unwavering feeling of not belonging even though I have the visa that says I do. I participated in classes, smiled at strangers, and cried in moments meant for blissful silence.
My mom knew. She heard the sadness in my calls but never pushed when I said, “I am just tired” or “It’s been such a long day.” However, I knew she spotted the lies. For her, “okay” always followed “if you say so.” What was I supposed to say? Do I tell her being surrounded by so many white people has made me feel inadequate, alone, and underserving, making me anxious and depressed – no, I do not think so.
The black culture is still grappling with the fact that mental health is an actual thing, and that discussing your emotional turmoil is not the same as being ungrateful. However, that is a conversation for another time.
I did not want to live in this way. I spent too much money and time learning with DIS and experiencing Stockholm to make imposter syndrome cage me in its deathly grasp. For those unaware, imposter syndrome leaves one feeling inadequate, a fraud, or undeserving, even when circumstances say otherwise.
Being in a highly white-populated foreign country made me question whether I belonged there. However, to my fellow people of color, I am here to tell you that you belong everywhere. You deserve to take up space in every room, every building, every country, and every continent. If you want to study or travel to that country, do it.
Those first few weeks were hard, and you might feel the same challenges. However, once I found my community, I transformed. I made what I hope are long-lasting friendships with other DIS students of color who shared their struggle of existing within this sea of whiteness. I also met locals who migrated to Stockholm after visiting here once because they fell in love with Sweden and decided to live here despite the massive white population. They saw the beauty in Sweden, which I am also discovering, and they overcame their fears and took the leap to move here.
To my people of color – if you urge to travel and to learn in or about new countries, then leap. Do not allow fear of racism or imposter syndrome to hold you back. You deserve to live in these life-altering opportunities, and you will always find a community of like-minded people in every country to help you overcome the obstacles you will face; I did.
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