Published: March 7, 2019
Brittney Carey is an early childhood educator and education advocate in Los Angeles. She is currently enrolled in the Advocacy & Social Justice program with a concentration in education. Carey recently launched her own social justice campaign to address exclusionary discipline practices in early childhood education.
The fear began to creep up on me as I watched the plane I would shortly be boarding taxi on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport. I mindlessly shifted through my phone, my best trying to distract my mind from the only thought intrusively invading, “What on earth am I doing?”
Back in the summer of 2018, I had opened my campus email to find an informational flyer about the upcoming Education Beyond Borders study abroad program called “Identity in Context: Examination of South Africa.” I thought to myself how wonderful it would be to study abroad, but then the excuses began to roll in. I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford this trip as an early childhood educator. I’d also have to take time away from the classroom and my students. This just wasn’t the right time, I reasoned.
I put the idea off and went on with my life. But like an insistent, nagging little fly the idea just kept resurfacing day after day. I would swat it away with one excuse or another until, finally, I decided to reflect on what had been truly holding me back: I was afraid.
I had never traveled internationally and this trip would be pushing every comfortable boundary I had built up to that point. When I realized that all my excuses and rationale had simply been the talk of fear I submitted my application for the program immediately. I began thinking for the first of many times in the months to come, “What on earth am I doing?”
In fall 2018, I embarked on the experience of a lifetime. And after more than 30 hours of travel, I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was immediately struck by the complexities of the environment—the rolling green hills followed by compact buildings and crowded streets. I witnessed the disparities as I traveled through a sprawling metropolis with shopping malls and new apartment buildings, immediately followed by dilapidated townships. The program ended in beautiful Cape Town where I had met a few of the most fascinating people.
Although I had traveled alone I was greeted by the kindest South African ambassadors. I had spent months prior to my trip researching and learning about the history of South Africa. However, nothing could compare to the lessons I learned while interacting with native South Africans, as they shared their stories, culture, music, and food.
Studying abroad enlightened me personally, professionally, and educationally. The grounding nature of traveling abroad added perspective and reignited my sense of wonder. I feel even more curious now than ever before about the people, places, and spaces around me. I have a greater understanding in the importance of a global perspective and the ability to confront biases.
“Identity in Context” was the theme throughout this study abroad program in South Africa. But I needed to gain a deeper understanding of the term ‘context’.
Context is the combination of the Latin prefix “con” meaning together and “textere” meaning ‘to weave’. Thus, I needed to first understand who I am. Second, I needed to examine how my identity relates to others. Lastly, I postulated on the many ways in which my identity is interwoven with others within my community and globally as well.
My time and exploration in South Africa prepared me to explore this topic with an intensity and depth I may not have been capable of before. I walked away from this experience feeling surer of my educational path, and professional career goals.
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