The White Savior Complex of Studying Abroad in India


A friend of mine recently shared an article on the flaws in study abroad programs. One aspect that they discussed was the exclusion or lack of space for students of color who are studying abroad. It made me think a lot about my experience as an Indian student of origin among a bunch of other white students. Coming to India, I was excited to reconnect with my Indian roots and learn more about my heritage. A lot of white students come to developing coutries hoping to change poverty, gender equality, and much more. Though this is an important concept, this falls under the white savior complex. As shown through media and defined by Celia Edell, "A White Savior is a common trope used in books, films, and as a way of interpreting actual history. It’s also a perspective shared by many white people as we move through the world. In the simplest terms, it’s when a white character or person rescues people of color from their oppression. The White Savior is portrayed as the good one, the one that we’re meant to identify with as we watch or read these narratives. They usually learn lessons about themselves along the way. There are many problems with this kind of narrative". This sort of perspective has colonial context that not everyone may understand. There is a lot of white privilege and racism at play with this complex. Instead of coming to a country, wanting to put a western perspective of development to their issues it is much better to support organizations that are working on the inside to fix these issues. I think that some students may have this perspective or intent when coming into India when the reality is, it is so difficult to change India in a semester. Instead, coming to learn about the issues and what the people are doing here to address it will be much more of a rewarding experience. 

When coming to a country like India, it is important to follow the customs of the religion, but also knowing when to step back. Cultural appropriation is a huge issue and one that I am constatnly weary about when I am here in India. On one hand it is so vital to respect the culture, but also recognizing that there is white privilege. Overstepping these boundries has a lot of issues associated with white privelege again within a colonial context. Appropriating comes in many different ways, but overall it is important to recognize privilege and know when to step back. 

Being the one or two only people of color in a study abroad program of sixteen people is tiring. But then again, having to deal with racism and microagressions in general is just tiring. Though everyone is mostly aware, it doesn't take away the stress that I experience as a person of color. It is even more tiring for me to see it within my own ethnic home. I knew coming into this program that it would be a worry of mine, but you can never be prepared for a situtation like this. Thats why it is even more white students coming to a program like this to understand their intentions and the racial context behind it. Understand your privilege and know when to step back.

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