Zebria Hicks - Kultural Kurator
She, Her, Hers
Ethnicity - Black American
Occupation - Alumna, North Carolina State University
What global experiences have you taken part in when you were a student and/or as a young professional?
During my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to participate in an Alternative Service Break during which I travelled to the Dominican Republic and assisted in an English immersion program for local children, a course-based research project in Namibia composed of students studying animals as well as engineering, math and computer science, and an exchange program in Australia where I got to explore the other side of the world.
How has Global Education impacted you personally, academically, & professionally?
My experience with Global Education has increased my inspiration and motivation to pursue my goals, both personal and academic. At this point in my life, I consider my academic goals also to be professional goals, since I aspire to one day be a professor and run my own lab before I retire and begin my own wildlife rehabilitation center. Traveling abroad required me to do a great deal of planning and introspection that I have now extended to other aspects of my life. For example: I can adapt the techniques I learned to cope with homesickness to help deal with stress in my everyday life; I can take the foresight and planning applied to creating travel itineraries to create organized and itemized approaches to attaining academic goals. None of this even touches on how my experience abroad enhances my unique perspective and provides me with a memorable talking point when interviewing and entering new professional spaces.
What challenges have you had to overcome as you gained your global experience(s)? My primary challenge in gaining my global experiences was financing. During my undergraduate career, I consistently travelled home (to Charlotte, NC from Raleigh, NC) to work on the weekends, winter vacation, and summer vacation. In addition to this, I qualified for work-study, so I was working on campus with most of my pay contributed toward my tuition. Even with both of these income sources, my budget was still pretty tight when factoring in other aspects of my life despite my wanderlust. It took a great deal of vulnerability to approach different advisors on campus to learn what funding my trips abroad would look like. I was fortunate enough to earn a few scholarships for each of my trips to make the load a bit easier. This included NC State's Chancellor scholarship for my trip to Namibia and the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship for my trip to Australia.
Beyond finances, I had to be willing to get farther out of my comfort zone than I had ever been. Prior to my time in the Dominican Republic, I had only ever travelled without my family once (a few weeks prior to leaving for the DR) and it was never out of the country. My anxiety was overwhelming no matter what airport I was in and no matter with who I was traveling. I accidentally followed the wrong signs in Johannesburg and ended up missing my connecting flight, I accidentally dropped my passport in Sydney and was lucky enough someone else saw, I even arrived at N/a'an ku se a few days before my luggage. Through it all, I knew that I couldn't just give up and go home, my trip hadn't even begun! I had to overcome that urge to revert to the comfortable and keep going.
What or who inspired you to take part in a study/internship/work abroad experience?
I was absolutely inspired to travel by my mother. My mother decided after many years of teaching that she wanted to go back to school for Hospitality and Tourism. She pursued a whole new field years after already having earned her Master's degree elsewhere. She did it all simply because she loved to travel and she wanted to help others travel as well. My mother passed away early in 2017 and by December of that same year I was in the Dominican Republic. Everything about my Alternative Service Break reminded me of her, from the music, to the dancing, and I even taught others to double dutch just like she taught me! Before my mother's passing we had talked excitedly about the Namibia program, which further fueled my excitement to travel to Namibia in 2018 - I was right where she wanted me to be. Now when I travel, I feel like I see little pieces of her everywhere and it certainly has inspired me to continue traveling even now.
How has your identity impacted your global experience(s)?
As a Black American Woman, there are parts of my identity that I cannot ignore, but also some facets that I've never really had to think about. Even though I have spent my whole life trying to navigate one cultural landscape, being abroad gave rise to new situations that I'd never considered.
For one, I've never felt more American than when I travelled abroad. I guess that's just never a part of my identity that I had to be aware of. It's definitely something that I was not prepared to face while traveling. When you're at home, you can say: "yeah, some Americans do that, but it's not *me*" or "some Americans hold that view, but I don't." During my experiences abroad, I was confronted with how other countries view our American lifestyles, politicians, and even businesses. I found myself frequently compared to movies or even music videos. It was a very odd experience trying to convey "yes, I'm American, but I'm not THAT American!" I found that regardless of my personal identity, I was frequently reduced to American stereotypes and generalizations. Beyond that, I was held responsible for views and values of Americans with whom I don't even agree. It was discouraging to say the least, but in the end it made me reflect on my stance in many situations and grow more confident in myself.
Beyond this, during my time in Namibia, I was mostly focused on my group's research. This didn't leave a great deal of time to explore the local landscape or culture. However, when we were able to make the long trip to town and go shopping and go out to eat, I was confronted by another core part of my identity in a whole new way. Suddenly, I had people approaching me, speaking a plethora of languages, whether they were trying to sell their product or just ask question - none of which I understood. Inevitably, I could see the shock in their faces when I would respond with my apparent American accent. It was not what they expected. Often in these situations I felt disappointed in myself. It made apparent a disconnect between myself and my ancestry that had not bothered me until that exact moment.
How has/ had seeing other people of color/diverse backgrounds influenced your decision to study/ intern abroad?
When I was initially looking into traveling abroad, I didn't see many other people of color doing so. On my Alternative Service Break, I had a very diverse group that I traveled with, but on my trips to Namibia and Australia it was quite the opposite. It was these experiences that motivated me to become the face for other students that I didn't see. As one of the first Global Diversity Advocates on campus, I participated in events to inspire others of underrepresented groups to travel as I did. I hope that sharing my experiences with others and showing them that it is possible to travel abroad as a minority, even with everything already against us, helped others to go out and seek those adventures and see new sights.
As a Kultural Kurator, what does culture mean to you?
To me, culture is the connection between yourself, your family, your community, and your ancestors.
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?
I have been told that in my most recent past-life, I must have been a plant. If you spend any amount of time with me, you will hear me refer to myself as a "solar-powered entity." That is to say, self care for me almost always includes getting out and getting some direct sunlight. It doesn't matter how, it can be hiking, I can take my coloring books or my kindle out on the patio, and so one. While I was in Namibia, I would get out and run around the property when I finished my work for the day. When I was in Australia, I did yoga on the roof of my apartment building on Saturday mornings. Being able to take time to be outside with my skin warmed by the sun and get a taste of fresh air is enough for me to de-stress and restart. I try to incorporate time outside into my schedule, weather allowing. When I can't get enough sunlight for whatever reason, I turn to cooking. The comfort of being in the kitchen, being able to try something new, or making a recipe I know by heart can really help me return attention to my body and myself.
What advice would you give to a future Kultural Kurator as they think about taking opportunities to explore the world around them?
The advice I would give a future Kultural Kurator is to do their research! As someone that is very science minded, having hopes and dreams is great, but I always prefer to go in with as well-informed a plan as possible. Before leaving the country, my research included watching travel vlogs on YouTube, talking to students who had taken part in prior years of my programs (when possible), looking at different statistics about cost of living and demographics, and even evaluating transportation and the best way to travel. Luckily for me, my first two trips were faculty-led and a majority of the planning was taken care of for me. However, on my third trip most of the planning was left up to me and it gave me the ability to explore and create my own adventure. Think of what kind of trip or experience that you want to have, do some research and plan accordingly!