Finding Your Place in a Different Space / by Love Vdo

My home institution is in Boston, Massachusetts. It is surrounded by communities made up of families who have spent generations in their homes and immigrants looking to start fresh in the States. This is Roxbury, and if you visit Boston you would not find this as a location to visit in a brochure for historical and relevant spots, even though it is very much of Boston’s core residency and carries a long history.

Back at my home institution I was President of my schools BSU, Secretary of Student Government executive board, and lead many initiatives for my institution to be inclusive of its ALANA students and the Roxbury Community it sits on, that is very much populated by ALANA.  While I was there I focused on researching immigration and the immigrant experience and how it relates to education. All most all of the work I was truly passionate about landed in this realm.This is no coincidence because I am an immigrant in the US and attending university.  

When I decided to study abroad in Italy it was to gain more design experience, however, I did have anxiety. It is the type of anxiety many people face because of systematic societal constructs: stereotype threat. I am twenty-one and in my senior year of college, I was able to truly find a place I felt my most comfortable with myself because I found a likeness in those around me and that happened because I created those spaces.

However, I found that when I came here to Florence I was entering a phase of cognitive dissonance. My beliefs and much of what I worked for back in the States were not reflected in my actions. I had to make sure that in the way I carried myself drew a clear difference from those who I saw working on the street who looked exactly like me.

I believe that this is a very true reality for a lot of ALANA students coming from the US to study in a place like Florence, which is fairly homogeneous. I cannot ignore that Italy also has a complex relationship with race relations that we can see reflected in the recent news like Slavery in Libya.

Considering all of this, I decided at the beginning of the semester to switch one of my courses and opted for one that would allow me the ability to work in schools in Florence teaching English. I wanted to be able to get more in tune with Italian culture that went beyond the superficial, like the sites and food.  Two weeks ago was my first class. I have taught in course assistantships before and tutored children in a community inner-city after-school program in Boston. However, I found I was nervous like I had not done this before. The children I am working with range from ages 10 to 13. By far it was the most positive experience I have had in Florence. There is a reason why I am so heavily involved in education because it set the precedent for the future.  Gen z is tapped into resources and in information that even I was not able to access because everything is transparent. They have the ability to shift and interpellate cultural and societal discrepancies we are only just coming to uncover.

Moreover, these students have an energy and curiosity for getting to understand each other on a human level that makes them able to transcend language barriers that a lot of adults would not even attempt to overcome. I can say that I am learning a lot from those who are younger than me.   

I realized that what is most important to me is to gain knowledge about the human experience because I do not live in the world alone. I want to bring that with me to the states and the work I continue there.

A combination of this experience and conversations with mentors have provided me the ability to identify that I really need to spend time on self-care and focusing on me. Then I am able to create work better work that I relate too.


Here are some links if you want more content on some of the themes I am referencing.