Photo Credit: TN
Diary Of A Black Traveler: How Sam Bridged A Cultural Gap In The Balkans
We all have unique experiences when we visit a different city or country, but how often does your black identity have an impact on how you experience a destination? In our Diary of a Black Traveler series, we ask members of the Travel Noire family to share their personal stories of being a black traveler in an unfamiliar space. Sam (@sam_misha) shares how embracing connection with locals during her time in the Balkans as part of a study abroad program helped her learn to travel with more intent.
Travel Noire: Where did you go in the Balkans?
Sam: Bosnia, Republika Srpska (the autonomous Serb republic in Bosnia), Croatia and Kosovo.
Travel Noire: Did you connect with the Balkans on a personal level due to your black heritage?
Sam: Yes. People were very interested in where I was from in Africa (I’m American), my hair and skin. As I got to know more people from the area, they become more interested in the life of black Americans in the US.
Travel Noire: Did you feel like you were treated differently because you were black and from a different country?
Sam: Yes. First, depending on what country I was in or which part of a particular country, people were more or less receptive towards Americans. As a result of American involvement in the Balkan conflict in the 1990s, there are mixed perceptions of Americans in the region. Second, as a black person, I was treated differently than my white counterparts. For example, a lot of people wanted to take and took pictures of me or with me. Some people would explain that most of the people here had never come in contact with black people.
Travel Noire: Did you face any challenges during your tip?
Sam: There was a lot starring from people. The first time I went to the region, it was very jarring and confusing. The second time I visited the region, I still experienced similar starring and intrigue. I overcame this uncomfortable feeling by talking to the people from the respective country (in this case the Bosnians) and they gave me more insight on the situation. I also started waving at the people starring and saying hello and the people I could communicate with were nice and were very interested in my background.
Travel Noire: How did you grow from your experience?
Sam: I think I became more comfortable in my skin whether it was walking around a market or talking with people from the culture. It taught me how to confront uncomfortable situations during travel in a rational and safe manner.
Travel Noire: How did the experience impact your life?
Sam: It has had a huge impact on my life. First, it sparked my interest in Balkan culture and its history. It is really a remarkable and vibrant culture. Second, I became interested in traveling to places off the beaten path or doing solo trips. It gave me so much courage to travel any and everywhere and also to travel by myself. Third, it encouraged me to engage with people on my travels. Whether it’s learning more about the culture, government or people’s views on current events, I travel not only to see a place but also with an intention to learn more about the people who live in a place.
Travel Noire: Would you encourage other black travelers to visit the Balkans?
Sam: Yes in part. I definitely encourage black travelers to travel to the Balkan region. If you are traveling alone, I would stick with Zagreb, Split or Dubrovnik, Croatia as well as Sarajevo, Bosnia. If you go anywhere else like Kosovo or other parts of Bosnia, I would try to travel with someone (a friend from the area, travel group, etc). Also, it’s important to keep note that who you travel with and their ethnic background (for example Serb, Bosniak, Croat, Albanian) may make a difference depending on where you go.