Karen Darlington Phelps - Kultural Kurator
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Karen Darlington Phelps
Ethnicity - Black/African-American
Occupation - Licensed Attorney
What global experiences have you taken part in when you were a student and/or as a young professional?
I had the pleasure of experiencing my first study abroad experience as a sophomore in college at Hampton University where I spent 10 days taking a tour of central and northern Spain with students from the Foreign Language Dept. That summer I also completed a 7-week language immersion program at Middlebury College where I studied Spanish (the second of my dual major while in undergrad). These initial experiences prepared me to spend the Fall semester of my junior year in college studying abroad in Santiago, Chile where I was an exchange student at Pontifícia Universidad Católica de Chile and lived with a Chilean host family. In my second year of law school at North Carolina Central University School of Law, I spent 2 months in Cape Town, South Africa where I studied at the University of Western Cape taking classes by members of the country’s Constitutional Court and I also had a legal internship at a global law firm there in the country named Edward Nathan Sonnenberg. Lastly, as a legal professional, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Havana, Cuba with some former law school professors, judges, and legal professionals as a part of a 15-day cultural exchange.
How has Global Education impacted you personally, academically, & professionally?
My study abroad experiences had a profound impact on me. First, it was after my study abroad experience in Chile that I gained fluency in the Spanish language, fulfilling a dream to become bilingual which served me well throughout my career to the present day. Second, I had originally intended to minor in Spanish but had so many credit hours after that trip that I was able to quite easily fulfill the requirements for a Major in Spanish, resulting in my graduating from college with a dual degree – Business Management and Spanish. Third, during law school I had an externship at an Immigration law firm which helped inspire and encourage me to pursue Immigration law once I became a practicing attorney. I opened up my own law firm shortly after graduating and because of my bilingual Spanish speaking ability, I was able to attract an entire market of Spanish-speaking clientele for my immigration practice area as well as the various other areas of my law practice. I even had a segment on a Spanish Radio talk show for just under a year where I helped callers from the public get answers to some of their legal questions and I was able to be an active participant in a number of organizations geared towards support and empowerment for the Hispanic and Latino community.
What challenges have you had to overcome as you gained your global experience(s)? In my undergraduate study abroad experience in Chile, I was in a country with a very, very small number of citizens of African descent and in the program I was one of only two African-American exchange students of all of the program participants. While I was never confronted with any acts of racism or discrimination during my time there, it was a huge adjustment being almost the only person of color in an entire country as I often was the subject of lots of stares and overt curiosity about my hair, my skin, my physical features, and my culture.
What or who inspired you to take part in a study/internship/work abroad experience?
I had a dream of becoming fluent in Spanish from a young age and learned about the possibility of study abroad when researching how could a person become fluent in another language. I decided in grade school that when presented with the opportunity in college, that I would study abroad. I did not let go of that dream until I made it become a reality.
How has your identity impacted your global experience(s)?
I have a much broader view of the world as a whole and understand just what a small and often times insularly focused place the United States of America can be. I learned how there is a much broader appreciation of Black people and Black culture in many other parts of the world and I returned home with such a profound wish that more young people of color could experience the world outside of the prejudices and injustices of the United States, firmly believing that it would ignite or renew a much deeper love and respect of self than what may be fostered at home.
How has/ had seeing other people of color/diverse backgrounds influenced your decision to study/ intern abroad?
I, unfortunately, did not see many people of color/diverse backgrounds while studying and working abroad but it made me so proud to be the first person of color and of a diverse background that many others had ever met while I was having these experiences because I think it helped to shape a more positive and profound perspective of Black people and Black Americans for those that I encountered. I was young, I was a woman, I was Black, and I was American yet I spoke Spanish, was college educated, loved to dance, appreciated new foods and cultures, and was setting my sights high on becoming a legal professional. By my presence there alone I helped to leave an indelible mark on so many I was proud to have the opportunity to represent well all of the many diverse facets that make up who I am.
As a Kultural Kurator, what does culture mean to you?
What connects people through language, religion, food, style of dress, hairstyles, music, and dance.
Self/Soul care is so important as we live our lives and grow in our professions. How do you incorporate self/soul care into your life?
My hobbies are my lifeline to sanity when the stresses of work and life can take their toll. I am a creative and creating is how I channel my inner peace. My hobbies that have developed into passions over the years since college to now are: Traditional West African Dance & Drum, Salsa Dancing, Jewelry-making, and Sewing.
What advice would you give to a future Kultural Kurator as they think about taking opportunities to explore the world around them?
I would say that it is certainly OK to be nervous but let those nerves become more feelings of excitement than anything else because what you are about to embark on will change and influence your life that you never thought imaginable and to an extent that you’ll never be able to quantify. Also, be forewarned that foreign travel is highly ADDICTIVE so once you start, you won’t ever want to stop!