My time as a study abroad participant has been an interesting experience thus far to say the least. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are both incredibly beautiful places. Prior to the trip, I never thought about the kind of people I would encounter while traveling to the different countries on our schedule. It wasn’t until I got here, and realized it was so many Caucasian people here. Myself along with the other black students were discussing this “culture shock.” America is truly a melting pot, and it wasn’t until I got over here did I realize how true that statement was.
In a week’s time, I hadn’t seen more then about 10 black people, which was completely bizarre to me. Belfast was more rural, so I couldn’t say I was too surprised, but it was a constant thought in my mind- where are the black people? Are there really just not any over here? Why? I thought we were everywhere. While in Belfast I noticed that someone was always looking at me in shock, or confusion- as if they never seen a black person before. I would see one or two on the streets though, so that couldn’t be the case. Are they racist? Am I really this foreign to them, were questions that I continuously asked myself.
During the shamrock tour, we stopped in the city where the Dunluce castle was. There, a young white girl who couldn’t have been any older than about nine, came to me and asked me why my skin was the way it was. She asked me if she could touch me. She grazed me with genuine fascination in her eyes. It was clear I was the first black person she’d seen. Though I was honored to be the first for her, I couldn’t believe it. At this point, I was convinced we didn’t exist over here, and the handful I’d seen were tourists just like myself. I spoke with my professor about this, and was told it would be nothing like that in Dublin, and in the end he was indeed right.
The first day was rocky. Another black girl on the trip was racially slurred within hours of us being there, and the very next day, I was called a nigga on the streets. I was fed up. I’ve never been called a nigga at home, so I was outraged. Aside from these incidents, despite the multiple black people I’d seen on the streets, I still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to talk to them. I wanted to know what they were like, but everywhere I went still was over populated by caucasians. Any night life activities we engaged in all happened because of simple communication. That’s what brings me to my topic- the art of communication.
It was our second to last night in Dublin, a Saturday night, and our group went out. We were standing in line for “Dicie’s,” a club a younger girl told us about earlier that day. A man was walking by, and noticed Graham had on jogging pants, and let us know he might not be able to get into the club. We went to security and asked, and he was right. I did ‘t want Graham going back to the hotel by himself, so I went back with him so he could change. This ended up being the best thing that could’ve happened.
While we were leaving the hotel to go back to the club, we bumped into a group of Irish African people around our age. We ended up hanging out with them that night and again the next night. It was an experience to say the least. I brought up the art of communication simply because that’s what got us there. I thought the car they were in was a taxi. The young lady in the back instantly picked up my “accent,” and realized I was American. Though a very small and obvious detail, I thought it was so interesting because they admitted that when they saw me, they thought I was a black Irish girl like themselves. It wasn’t until I spoke when they noticed I was different from them. Listening to them speak made me think of a dialects course I took last summer. It’s amazing how the way your tongue moves and develop words allows for people to be able to identify you from all over the world.
While around them, I observed how they interacted with one another. In some instances, they reminded me of my friends and I, and other times they were so different. For instance, the receptiveness to complete strangers they had was odd, but inspiring. These people at the end of the day knew nothing about myself or graham, and yet while we were there, we both felt so safe and secure. Not only did they introduce us to literally everyone at the party, they continuously checked up on us while we were in their care. Another thing I noticed was everyone we were introduced to greeted us with a hug. I spoke with one of them about this, and they explained to me that that was the way of their people. She continued with saying that the best way to make someone feel comfortable is to embrace them. That’s exactly what they did.
In multiple communication classes I’ve taken, my professors talked about body language. Body language is the most natural form of communication. It is nonverbal yes, but to me, that’s what makes it so natural. Your facial expressions, gestures, and reactions are reflexes your body makes to whatever message that it’s receiving, whether that message be a physical or verbal one. In comparison to Americans, I think we’re much colder in spirit to one another. I can’t speak for all Americans, but I for sure was not raised to just hug any and everyone, let alone a stranger. When I go out, majority of people are strangers to me, and there’s no way anyone’s gonna introduce themselves to me, or vice versa.
Americans are individualists, while others parts of the world are collectivists. The people that embraced Graham and myself are clear examples of collectivism, and our shock to such welcoming treatment are clear examples of our individualist upbringing. There’s a pub on every corner over here. That would never happen at home due to fear of competition. In America, we focus on the betterment of ourselves, our families, etc. It’s just not like that over here. Communication is mass media in its original state, and because of technology and so many other forms of media we have, I think we forget that. My time with the Irish Africans not only reminded me of that, but it taught me the power of open communication with everyone-stranger or not- and for that I am thankful.