We have been wanting to get this interview up for some time and think that Women in Travel Wednesday during Women's History Month is the PERFECT TIME! You may have caught our first ever Instagram Takeover with this amazing human, Alex Penn but if you like us are craving to know more about our Philly turned Houston homegirl who is currently studying in Costa Rica, this interview is for YOU!
Here at beGirl.world, we strive to give our girls examples of not just women older than them but also their peers making the most of opportunities to see the world. Alex is a perfect example! Just in high school, she faced all feared, embraced all faith and ventured from her single mother to go have the experience of a lifetime! I'm sure it wasn't easy for her Mother either who had to see her only daughter off, but her Mom beams nothing but pride and excitement for Alex.
Thank you Alex for being authentically you and authentically magic! She dropped some gems in the interview below that all girls should check out and yes, even some boys! And by the way, our beGirls submitted the questions!
Here's a little sample, but like we said - just read the interview and ENJOY!
"I feel that it is important for young black girls to travel because way too often are we subject to people telling us what we can’t do or can’t achieve and we sometimes start to believe them."
1. What made you want to do this program?
I did this program because I am obsessed with the idea of being a global citizen. I define a global citizen as someone who has the “willingness to immerse themselves in another’s culture.” It is the inherent understanding that the world is vastly larger than your hometown and that there is so much that you can do to improve it. It is, also, the kindness to lend a hand to the world when it finds itself in times of need. I want to live without limits and connect with people all over the world. What a way to achieve that other than taking the chance to travel internationally in your teens and see how other people live! It also helps that my mom is a believer of this idea (being a global citizen) and encouraged me to seize this opportunity. It was completely nerve-wracking at first, but I am glad that I did it.
2. What has been your most favorite and least favorite thing about traveling outside the United States?
My most favorite thing about traveling outside of the United States is the food! I have definitely developed a real appreciation for cooking since I have been here. I love learning new recipes and trying new foods. In Latin America, food is very emotional and a way to connect with or show love to people. It came in handy in the beginning of my exchange because as people say, food is a universal language. Since Costa Rica has a tropical climate, there is a lot of agriculture. Fruits, meats, and spices sold in grocery stores are all fresh and locally grown. Also, food changes with every culture so, as you explore new countries, your palette will always be surprised.
My least favorite thing about traveling outside of the United States are the poor preconceived notions about what it means to be a black Americans. A lot of the information they receive about African Americans is from the media, and, it seems, mostly from rap music and ridiculous satirical movies about the “hood” (e.g. Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood). I have had a lot of conversations with Costa Ricans in which they told me that I’m not “truly black” because I don’t carry specific characteristics that align with their concept of blackness. It seems people everywhere believe that Black Americans are a monolith.
3. What has been your favorite place to go to in Costa Rica?
My favorite place to go in Costa Rica is a small town called San Pablo in the valley of Los Santos. It is about 3 hours, by bus, from my home in San Isidro. My friend Alexandra, also an exchange student (from California), lives there and I went to stay with her for a weekend. It was incredible! The house overlooks the whole valley and I found myself enchanted with the hills. They’re huge and covered in coffee bean fields. Due to the altitude, the clouds always gather below the house and when the sun sets, all you can see are stars. The air is incredibly clean and crisp. The weather drops near freezing at night, but with a cup of hot chocolate and some good company, it’s not too bad. I will always have fond memories of that place.
4. Do you have any tips or advice for how to deal with being homesick?
A part of studying abroad is having bouts of homesickness and that is something that affected me quite often. I am the only child of a single mother, so my mom and I are very close. When I started to feel like I was missing home, I would write about it in my journal and meditate. I brought a couple books here that I enjoy reading, some playlists to dance to, and some feel-good movies to watch when I am down in the dumps. I talked to my mom quite often (and I still do; I can’t lie). Sometimes, if we talk regularly for too long, I begin to get terribly homesick, so we set boundaries on when we can talk. Another thing that is really helpful for getting your mind off of home is picking up some hobbies. Being busy really distracts your mind and also adds to the feeling of having a normal life in your host country.
5. What are the other places outside the USA that you want to travel to?
I am a bit ambitious so my hope is to travel to almost every country there is. There are so many places in the world that I haven’t been to, foods I have yet to try, languages that I’ve never heard of before, and so much more. I think that for my next trips, I would like to go to Italy and Morocco. They seem awesome and different from anything I have already experienced.
6. What would you say you learned from this travel experience?
I would say that from this experience I have learned how to leave my comfort zone and keep my head up when the going gets hard. I am usually very loud, sociable, and unafraid to speak my mind. However, when I arrived in Costa Rica, I became much more timid. I went from talking too much to not talking at all. The language barrier was intimidating and it was much easier to build somewhat of a shell around myself. As time has progressed, I have become much more comfortable with taking risks. Hiding behind fear was keeping me from enjoying myself, so now I talk with everyone without a second thought. Of course, my Spanish isn’t grammatically correct all the time or it’ll take me awhile to find that perfect word, but I know that I am still learning and that I can’t let frustration get in the way of my personal development. I must be patient with myself and keep persevering.
7. Why do you feel it is important for young black girls to travel?
I feel that it is important for young black girls to travel because way too often are we subject to people telling us what we can’t do or can’t achieve and we sometimes start to believe them. I think that traveling will helps us gain a sense of confidence in ourselves and security in our abilities. We get to defy the expectations of others and be the best versions of ourselves by picking up new skills and abilities that help us grow beyond the boundaries of our school, our neighborhood, and our country.