Traveling Helped Me Understand My Privilege

The issue is not whether or not you have privilege. It’s how you use it where the conflict comes into play. As a white American, I will admit that for the longest time, I resisted the idea of “privilege”. I believed that because I came from a lower middle-class family and have suffered my fair share, the concept of “privilege” did not apply to me. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I started traveling.

I will never forget the day I was buying a train ticket in Athens, Greece, and two little boys appeared around the corner. They couldn’t be older than five years old. They started begging for money, and when that didn’t work, they began to kick me (just me, probably because I was the smallest of my friends). I understood that these children were probably taught by an adult to steal – they did not know any better. To them, this was necessary to survive.

Fast forward to the couple weeks spent in Morocco and Senegal. On a class field trip, we visited the slums of Casablanca. A family graciously hosted us, and fed us a delicious meal that I can still taste – dates, nuts, bread, and mint tea. They did not fall under most peoples’ standards of “well off”, but they were happy. In Senegal, I saw children begging for water, and women selling jewelry for literally anything we could give them – make up, food, water, or cash, but they normally asked for other things first. But the children I met at an elementary school were the happiest kids I had ever seen. They were delighted to be able to learn and interact with other children.

understand my privilege

I also spent an afternoon in Ecuadorian favelas during another field trip. Again, I met some very kind people who welcomed us into their home. They told us about their daily routine, their struggles, hopes, and aspirations. They spent the afternoon showing us how circumstance acted as a bond that created a strong community, where people had each other’s backs and worked together every day. They worked together to have the luxury of giving their children an education, to cut down on crime, drug violence, and gangs.

I have never had to worry about my personal survival in the same way as some of the people I met. I grew up always having food on the table and shoes on my feet, which is a lot more than some people on our planet can say. I live in the United States, so I have never had to worry about unsanitary water. I do not live in fear due to my ethnicity and cultural misconceptions, and I do not have to worry about extra questions or suspicious stares in airports due to my skin color and last name, I have privilege. I met people who will never have higher education as an option, and don’t view it as a necessity the way I do. I learned that even though I am not “rich” in popular sense, because I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and shoes on my feet, I am a lot wealthier than many people. Because I do not have to learn an imperial language to participate in economics and politics, I have privilege.

I never would have realized this if I stayed in the United States my entire life. Traveling opened my eyes in so many ways. In a time like this, where divisions based on privilege, skin color, misconceptions based on religion and region, I will aim to further understand the lives of other people, and use my privilege to help others. Having privilege is not a problem. You just need to understand your privilege, and make sure to use your privilege to help the world become a better place.

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Allyson is a junior at the University of Akron in Ohio, USA. She is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in media production with a minor in anthropology. Allyson kicked off her dream of traveling around the world with Semester at Sea during the Fall 2016 Voyage. She visited 11 countries throughout Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Some of her life goals include road-tripping the entire length of the Pan-American Highway and living on a kibbutz in Israel. Her dream career is to travel around the world making documentaries. To her, the best parts of traveling are learning new things from other people, and constantly hunting for the best cup of coffee in the entire world.


  1. Allyson, I’m 75% Italian and it’s a shame how Italians forget that they were once considered a threat to “our way of life” just like Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants are now. I get stares at check points due to my complexion, but as soon as people see an English first name and Italian family name, their fears seem to go away.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. Such great insight and I reminder to us all “privileged” people that we need to be more grateful for our lives whether simply lived or not. We are rich with the opportunity to travel. We are writing a post this week on Kosan Travel highlighting reasons to invest in travel and your post really highlights those reasons. Thanks!

  3. Travel exposes us to different experiences. It teaches us and transforms us. Our view broadens and it also enables us to count our blessings. Very introspective post that delves deep, very honest. Loved it.

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