American Privileges as a Black Traveler & The Benefits of Traveling By Sydney Wing

Sydney Wing is a third-year doctoral student in the School Psychology, Ph.D. program at Tulane University. Her passion for addressing mental health in underserved communities started as an undergraduate at the Xavier University of Louisiana, where she was a Psychology major, minoring in Spanish. As an undergraduate, she completed research addressing women’s occupational health and perceptions of health problems in underserved communities in the Dominican Republic and Peru.

Currently, Sydney’s research interests include addressing culture and context in child development, specifically cross-cultural perceptions of psychological support systems. After completing the doctoral program, Sydney aspires to be a practicing psychologist in underserved New Orleans communities, focusing on providing evidence-based practices and assessment with fidelity, such as well-needed psychological assessment services and trauma-based cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Outside of school, Sydney enjoys traveling both international and domestic, humorously documenting her wanderlust and general thoughts through her blog Run, Creolepatra, Run. She has traveled, worked and presented research in 8 countries, and plans on visiting and working in more. She is the student representative and member of the International School Psychology Association (ISPA), Louisiana School Psychology Association (LSPA), the National Black Graduate Student Association (NBGSA), and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.

Sydney, it finally great to connect with you. How has life been after college? What are you studying at Tulane?

 Hello Tameka, I’m really excited to connect with you as well!

Life after Xavier has been a challenging, but very rewarding and exciting period in my life. After graduation, I went to Tulane for graduate school, where I am currently a third-year doctoral student in the School Psychology Ph.D. program. The reoccurring theme of this chapter in my life has been all about transitions and balance. I’ve just kinda have been slowly accepting and rolling with every life transition: from undergrad to grad school, from HBCU to PWI, from kinda stressed to completely scressed (yes, scressed with a ‘C’).

I’ve come to realize that an organized planner and ambition aren’t the only things needed to succeed: I need balance and harmony in all realms of my life. In terms of balance, I “wear many hats” in my school and personal life. I am not just a student taking classes, but I also do research, work as a teaching assistant, and do clinical practicum/rotations each semester. Add in juggling sleep, studying, and having my personal life, ambitions, and goals. Despite them quick “Why the hell did I go to grad school?” thoughts I have while I’m writing or grading papers, I genuinely love what I do at Tulane.

My research is my b-a-b-y. Feel free to insert some hand claps here. My research focuses on cross-cultural patterns on psychological support systems. I love it so much because I get to talk about culture and context all day. Culture is at the root of everything we do; culture is the lens through which we view our world, so it has the power to dictate our values, perceptions, beliefs, and traditions. Environment is equally important because it also shapes and provides context to how we grow. In working with children and adolescents, these conversations about culture and context allow us to see how and where people grow up may impact who they are.

The most important quality of my work really is the participatory aspect — our ‘research subjects’ are actual participants in the process of research, actively involving the voices of the people we study. It is genuinely powerful because traditional psychological research has largely ignored culture and context; for the longest, the research on racial and ethnic minority children has not existed, and if it has, it is deficit-based, negative and biased.

My research is about taking the power and privilege from traditional, biased (and sometimes just racist) research, and giving our participants the authority and power to speak their truth. Ultimately, I love being the one on the platform who gets to communicate and relay these truths, the who helps turn culture from being the elephant in the room to being the forefront of our conversations in the field of Psychology.

 

I read a post on your blog where you talk about American privilege as a Black traveler. Can you elaborate on that more?

 What I was speaking on was this unique experience that happens when “traveling while black”. It really goes back to thinking about privilege and power. Privilege is nuanced and intersectional. It really is a weird experience, because as an African American woman living in the United States’, I certainly do not feel privileged. You can turn to any media platform and see real-life examples of how Black people, women and particularly, Black women, are not privileged in this country. And when you look at it globally, anti-blackness, misogyny, and discrimination are everywhere.

Yet, I think again: privilege is layered. You and I (as well as dozens of other marginalized people) still experience some form of privilege. For example, us being college educated makes us privileged: our degrees give us the privilege of being able to access better jobs, meaning more income and other positive outcomes that others do not have. While that privilege doesn’t necessarily erase any form of discrimination we experience and encounter, it still does what privilege will always do.

A privilege makes you the recipient of power, access and social desirability and acceptability that others without that privilege do not receive.

So again, being an American, from a “first world nation” visiting a “third world” nation does give you a privilege in that specific context. However, it does not erase the fact that you may not get to experience that privilege outside of that context, or that you face other forms of discrimination. I weirdly enjoy having this conversation with other black travelers because we really get to delve into how weird power, privilege, and access really becomes for us.

 

How has traveling broadened your mind? What are some lessons you’ve learned on the way?

 Returning to this idea of culture, traveling does make you “cultured”, for a lack of better terms. Not like in the bougie and obnoxious “Stop eating and breathing, and just get a passport” way, but in a way where traveling just allows you to recognize the very basic humanity in different contexts and cultures than your own. It sounds so cliche, but traveling allows you to see that everyone really is the same. We’re all humans who love our families, like to enjoy ourselves, eat, sleep and get up to do it all again each day. Most interestingly, you find bits and pieces of your own culture within others. You find a little bit of “home” even when you’re hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Finding a piece of home has become an important lesson to me. I remember the first month of living in Peru, I was miserable. The sun didn’t shine since it was winter time there, I didn’t know anyone besides my co-workers, and people were just unfriendly and mistrustful of this prieta. I tried so hard to find my place, I settled for a convenient experience: eating lots of American food, hanging out with other Americans. But that…didn’t do much for me. Finding something that reminds you of home doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with other nationals and eating American food. Not gonna lie, I did have some intense cravings for Popeyes during those 3 months. However, it meant finding the experiences and places that made me just feel comfortable. I found that in sitting by the flower-lined malecon, just talking about life with my two fave coworkers. I found that it meant trying 2$ menú lunch specials out of a family owned establishment (aka someone’s abuelita’s kitchen). It meant supporting and being an ally for my co-worker as we went to an LGBTQ parade in downtown Lima.

Who I am at home — an adventurous foodie and social justice advocate — couldn’t be separated from who I was abroad. I had to just be willing to find myself in a different context and culture.

 

What top three places you would like to visit and why?

 This is a really hard question, because there are so many places new and old, that I would love to visit (and revisit). I generally have regions I would want to visit, with a couple of countries or cities of interest. My number one region of interest would be Northwestern Africa: we recently did a DNA test, and my roots on my father side point back to Ghana and Nigeria, while my mom’s from Senegambia region. Besides getting in touch with the home of ancestors before they were cruelly plucked from such, the allure of the history and people just seem to be really awesome. I would really have to brush up on my French, but I’d be ready. My second region of interest would be Northern Europe and then Spain. I’ve already been to France and England, so I gotta go see the rest now. Lastly, but not least, I have to go back to Latin America. I don’t have anywhere specific because if the flight and Airbnb price is right, I’m out.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to travel?

 One of my biggest pet peeves is the “get up and go” mantra because we all have responsibilities and obligations that might prevent us from just dropping money on a ticket and jet-setting. One of my biggest things is planning your trip: traveling isn’t hard if you plan ahead. That doesn’t just mean buying your plane ticket in advance (when prices are likely cheaper) and getting a hotel. It means doing the research, and actively checking out places of interest. It means getting together an itinerary as a guideline for how you will be spending your time.

Although there’s nothing wrong with going somewhere to #turnup or relax by the pool, I just advocate that you return home thinking “Man, that trip was worth it”. I’ve had my fair share of “Meh, it was cool”, but that was usually because I didn’t plan right. I didn’t look up cool places to visit, I didn’t go out of my way to see what bars or nightlife was popping. I didn’t get to just walk around and observe. So my advice is to think about the things you know you’d love to do and start doing your research on them before you leave.

Sydney Wing is a third-year doctoral student in the School Psychology, Ph.D. program at Tulane University. Her passion for addressing mental health in underserved communities started as an undergraduate at the Xavier University of Louisiana, where she was a Psychology major, minoring in Spanish. You can stay connected with her at the links below.

Instagram: @runcreolepatra (Blog/Business) / @siiddartha (Personal)

Facebook/LinkedIn: Sydney Wing

Blog: runcreolepatrarun.wordpress.com

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