140120 | ORD → FCO
To study abroad is an exercise of tremendous power. Now, perhaps more than ever in history—certainly more than at any point in my albeit limited memory—to cross a border is a contested act. Italy, like America, is witnessing a heavily politicized and racialized migrant and refugee experience and a virulent, at times violent, nativist response.
To be able to ignore the politics of migration, jetting away to flutter about Italy like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, requires an exceptional willful ignorance. We must not forget how lucky we are to have the opportunity to learn in contexts beyond our home universities, and not take that privilege lightly.
291219 | CVG → JFK
Before leaving for Rome for the semester, I’ve been taking some time to visit friends from school in their hometowns. First, I spent New Year’s Eve with a friend and her girlfriend who live in Brooklyn, attending a drag show to ring in the first moments of 2020. The performances celebrated the defiance of queer community-building in the face of the intertwined cruelties of homophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy. “Togetherness is revolutionary” flashed across the screen as one queen delivered an impassioned lip synch.
Processing this, I thought perhaps my first reflections on preparing for abroad should be about my experiences as a queer person; about how grateful I am for the authentic communities of loving acceptance and solidarity I’ve formed; about how simultaneously excited and nervous I am to make new friendships and experience new journeys abroad as a femme-presenting, male, queer person traveling to a country with a deeply traditional, faith-based culture.
020120 | JFK → BOS
But then, while visiting another friend in Boston, we went to the Institute of Contemporary Art and saw the show “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art.” Taking in these reflections on the deeply political, often deeply dangerous, nature of migration today for so many, often unwilling, emigrés, I felt it would have been self-indulgent, at best, to so narrowly describe my own hopes and dreams for studying abroad without considering a broader context.
120120 | CVG → ORD
As I squeeze my size 12 heeled boots and various multicolored tubes of overpriced skincare products into my luggage, I’m looking forward to spending the semester learning more about my own identity and exploring possibilities for forming queer communities with my classmates and with locals in Rome—while at the same time never forgetting the power all of us, as American students, wield, and the responsibility we have to learn about and ally ourselves with activists and advocates in Italy working towards a more socially just world, where everyone has the freedom to flit about Europe the way so many university students do.