This is the second in a series of summer blog posts where the author reflects on her time as a first-generation Latina studying abroad in Prague. You can find the first blog post here.
The date is June 20th, and I’m just about physically adjusted to being several time-zones away from home.
However, in many ways being here is something I’m not sure I can ever get used to. To forward this, and something I should’ve mentioned in my first blog post, is that while I am a Latina, I am white-passing.
Passing as white grants me many privileges at home and abroad – and particularly in the Czech Republic – that many would not be afforded. For example, as I take a tram to Malostronské Náměstí (Malostronska Square for those of you still brushing up on your Czech), a graffiti that says “White Power,” would not have been painted with the intent of asserting dominance and instilling fear in someone who looks like me.
People are generally nice and helpful to me, while they are often less so to people a few shades darker. And yet, I don’t get to be around people who look like the family I’m used to being around, or who speak the Spanish I’m still catching up with – yes, not everyone in the Latinx community speaks Spanish fluently – and I don’t get to taste the food that tells me that I’m at home. These are small but still significant prices to pay while being abroad.
Yet, even more striking than the cultural differences that I’m still adjusting to are the class differences. Being in Prague – where a nice, filling dinner with drinks and desserts is about 15 USD – would be relatively easy for someone who could afford to spend that much on just one meal. Even buying groceries and cooking in my apartment is something that is still costly, especially when living with three other people.
I was raised to be sure that if I was cooking, I would be cooking for anyone that wanted food. As such, I typically only eat about two meals a day, because not only am I unable to afford three meals a day for myself, but I feel particularly uncomfortable eating and not being able to offer any to my flat-mates.
This feeling of estrangement is only made more apparent when, during the past weekend, everyone in my cohort except for me was able to take a last-minute, weekend trip to Vienna. While I know that many of my peers were able to do this because they had been working during the fall and spring terms and saved up, I also know that that wasn’t something I could do, because a significant amount of the money I make during the school term is spent sending money home to my family to help with basic necessities.
However, despite my discomfort here at not having all of the opportunities that others do, I still very much appreciate the opportunities I do have.
One of the main skills I’ve learned through my three years at Harvard – aside from learning how to dress properly for a night at the opera – is knowing how to appreciate and enjoy what privileges I do have, while simultaneously being able to acknowledge how inequalities shape my own and many others’ experiences.
While I may enjoy getting to see and hear Don Giovanni, knowing how to dress properly for a theater such as the Estates Theater in Prague is something I wouldn’t have known how to do had I not gone to a college like Harvard that helped me – and forced me – to play catch-up.
Had I not gone to Harvard, and worked in Sanders Theater every single semester, I might have felt the comfort my fellow classmates did, taking any seat they wanted in the Estates Theater – or in the National Theater just a few nights before – rather than the discomfort that came with thinking about how it might inconvenience fellow concert-goers, and even more so the ushers working at both venues. While being abroad is an immense privilege I’m afforded because of Harvard, the experience thus far is something that’s made me hyper-aware of subtle class differences that I still experience.