My Travel Guide for Students of Color – API Blog

May 16, 2019
Khaalis Smithers

Today’s blog post comes to us from Virginia Commonwealth University student & API blogger Khaalis Smithers, who is studying abroad with us in San José, Costa Rica!

Khaalis Smithers

Travel Guide Black Out

Hi there! As some of you may know, my name is Tyshawn Khaalis Smithers. Typically, I go by ‘Khaalis,’ my middle name, given its uniqueness
and peculiarity. Here is a little bit about myself; I am a gender-nonconforming male-presenting black person who is from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I am twenty years old, and I am into an abundance of things. I love movies, writing analyses, music, poetry, and anything

As a first-generation college student, I understand the horrors that can come with being independent. In relation, this document is going to include details about my experience as a study abroad student in Costa Rica. I will
be providing safety tips and insight into my journey!

Pre-departure preparations

First, when preparing to depart from the United States (or your home country, wherever that may be), you should look into the market system of the country you will be traveling to. I didn’t and that was a giant misstep on my part because I’ve gone ‘without’ for a large portion of the time I’ve been abroad.

I didn’t have access to necessary cosmetics, preferred foods, and preferred clothing.

It was very dejecting, but I ended up finding a way to make it work. I do not advise that, however, because it was not ideal.

That being said, for those of you departing from the states, I would advise you to buy your skincare before you go: sunscreen, face wash, moisturizer, toner, and everything else from a store of your choice back home. Stores like Sephora and Ulta are nonexistent. If you frequent those places because of their reliability, that will not be an option for you during your stay. For me, even the Wal-mart’s in San Jose lack a lot of the product Wal-marts in the states have. In order to be fully prepared and comfortable, I highly suggest investing in yourself beforehand.

In relation, while San Jose does have multiplazas and malls that mimic the style of commercial buildings in the states, they typically have higher prices and fewer selections.


For safety, I have just a few tips that I think can help to improve your experience by making it safer, and by increasing your awareness. As black people, we are faced with discrimination, prejudice, unwarranted indifference, and ostracism everyday; although we have become accustomed to it, it still does not make navigating the world any easier. Especially when talking about being black in a predominantly Latin region.

For black males and male-presenting others: Just like anyplace else, you will
be met with fetishization regarding your body.

How do you combat this? Acknowledge it for what it is, and do not allow yourself to be used for other people’s selfish endeavors. You’re in Costa Rica; so, use the nature, parts of the culture, and the opportunity to solidify your sense of identity.

For black females and female-presenting others: You will also be met with extreme fetishization.

However, it can materialize into more physical forms of exacerbation; assault, objectification, ostracism, and more. While these are not certainties, they are very likely probabilities and with that being said, it is imperative that you all take care of yourselves by forming communities and watching out for each other. Yes, experience and welcome diversity, but also remember the importance of representation and remember the importance of shared experience.

Also, for women or anyone presenting as a woman physically or conventionally, I would advise being aware of your surroundings, traveling with friends when possible, and being aware of who is preparing and serving alcohol to you. Of course the blame isn’t on you, and it never should be. But it’s important to be safe. I would advise against walking alone at night, and I would advise at least always keeping one or two friends in the loop about who you may or may not be with. Be wary of Ubers, of your surroundings, and be safe.

A note from API

Studying abroad is an opportunity API strives to provide for as many students as possible. We would love to provide you with any resources, tips or answers to your questions before you head abroad. Whether you’re concerned about studying abroad as a person of color, or as an LGBTQ+ minority, we are here to provide assistance, support and resources every step of the way!


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