PALs 2019-2020 As a Global Citizen…

April 27, 2021
By Jackie Shi, CAS '21

Jackie Shi, a senior studying political science in the College of Arts and Sciences, studied abroad at the National University of Singapore in 2020. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Jackie is serving as a Penn Abroad Leader, which is Penn Abroad’s student advisory board focused on special projects and supporting fellow students interested in global experiences. 

During the spring break of my semester abroad, I traveled to Yogyakarta, Indonesia with three other friends I made while at the National University of Singapore (NUS). As we were walking around and touring the Prambanan temple, I noticed that a bunch of people were staring and whispering as we walked by, but I didn’t think much of it. Then two women approached us and made a motion of taking a picture. At first, I thought they were asking me to help them take a picture, so I smiled and nodded my head. As I held out my hand, I was thrown off guard when one of the women opened selfie mode and began posing with my friends and I in the background. It hit me then: they were taking pictures of us because in a homogenous country like Indonesia, seeing a group like us—one who was blonde haired and blue eyed, one who was biracial, one who was Chinese but with a darker complexion, and me—was truly a rare sight. They took pictures and approached us out of a pure and genuine curiosity.

In my first-ever blog post I wrote for Penn Abroad, I shared about how I felt a newfound sense of comfort in Singapore as I was surrounded by people who phenotypically looked like me and it was the values and beliefs I’ve learned from growing up in America that made me feel like an outsider. But upon returning to America, it’s ironic how now I’m often made to feel like an outsider because I phenotypically look different than what’s deemed to be the so-called “average American.”

The beauty of America is that a group like my friends and I can exist—a group consisting of people who come from all different identities, backgrounds, and experiences. We may look drastically different from one another, but what bonds us together is our humanity and desire to explore a world beyond the one we gravitate towards out of comfort. However, it’s tragic that the refusal to look beyond one’s comfort zone sprouts ignorance and the fear of difference. This insecurity has caused some in America to think that there’s one definitive way you have to look or one mold that you have to fit into in order to be “American.” In fact, it’s the very opposite. It’s our very differences that make America great.

America isn’t the only country with inequalities; all of the countries I’ve visited have their own fair share of systems of oppression. If a country isn’t plagued by racism, then it’s sexism, classism, colorism, or any other “ism” you can think of. In the wake of current events and the oppression that many minority groups are facing, I’ve spent much time reflecting on the color of my skin and what my role is as an Asian American in America—a country I was born and lived my entire life in, yet some tell me I don’t belong. But what my semester abroad has taught me is that my identity lies beyond just being an American citizen but being a global citizen as well. Studying abroad has taught me the importance of approaching the world from a point of curiosity and understanding, and not one of ignorance and self-centeredness. And as global citizens, we can, and always should, strive to do better.

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.