"For the last 10 years it's been like my little oasis or peaceful activity. Planning trips, thinking about what activities I'm gonna do. So yeah, that's a big part of my life." (Brittany, Episode 51)
Happy New Year! Happy January! Happy MLK Day (yesterday)! Young, Gifted and Abroad is back, and my first guest of this year is a lovely individual named Brittany Pruitt. We became aware of each other on Instagram some months ago, and one day I read an announcement she posted about leaving her job in Washington, D.C. to go to grad school... in Australia! From there, I eventually emailed Brittany about coming on the podcast to talk about this current adventure of hers, and she wound up being the first person I interviewed in 2020!
Brittany is from the Atlanta area, and as a "military brat" she moved a lot along the east coast due to her parents' work obligations. Although her parents had also been military brats and got to travel the world when they were younger, out of concern for Brittany's safety they said no when she asked to go on international trips. (Visiting a country on one's own is quite different from staying on a U.S. military base in that country, which might allow for more security and structure.) After graduating high school in the D.C. area, she moved back to Atlanta to attend Spelman College, a women's college that is also an HBCU. While pursuing a B.A. in international studies with a minor in environmental studies, she got to travel outside of the U.S. for the first time at the age of 18 by doing a language immersion program in Costa Rica. For six weeks, she and a group of other Spelman students lived in San José studying Spanish and international development. That first time abroad was impactful in and of itself, but Brittany also appreciated being able to share the experience with other Black women she already knew and to form stronger bonds with them.
Since the international studies major at Spelman required a semester abroad, Brittany went on to spend her first semester of junior year in Legon (Accra). She'd been looking for programs in Africa that had an environmental studies focus, and the choice was between Tanzania or Ghana. She chose the latter because the program there was more flexible, and because Ghana felt closer to what she knew as her roots (most enslaved Africans in the U.S. were shipped from West Africa). While in Legon she not only took classes at the University of Ghana, but she also made local friends and got to feel more connected to her heritage. Brittany credits that first trip to Ghana with changing her life, as well as her approach to traveling. She returned to Ghana a few months later in March 2013, as part of her "Washington Semester" studying international development and environmental policy at American University.
Then, during the summer after her junior year, Brittany was selected to participate in the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program at Carnegie Mellon University. (This is the same program that Gerena from episode 18 did, at a different university.) This two-month program exposed Brittany to CMU's Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, where she would eventually enroll for graduate school. However, instead of going straight to grad school after graduating from Spelman, Brittany wanted to gain more work experience first. So, she started working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in D.C., where she had already interned for most of her summers in undergrad. She worked there for five years, all the while taking various domestic and international trips. Brittany was of course motivated by her own desire to travel, but was also inspired by certain work colleagues (such as former Peace Corps volunteers) who had found opportunities to travel after finishing university. During this time she also started Hungry Black Girl Travels, an Instagram account and podcast where she documents her own trips and has conversations with other Black travelers.
After those years of learning what kinds of work she wanted to do and what type of work setting she wanted to be in, Brittany decided to go back to school. She wanted to continue advancing the causes of environmental science and global public health, but in a way where she could be more directly connected with the communities being served and affected by such policies. And she thought grad school would better equip her to do that. Her previous completion of PPIA qualified her to enroll in her Master's of Public Policy progam at Heinz with a full-tuition scholarship, and her particular Master's program allowed her to do the first year at Carnegie Mellon's campus in Adelaide, Australia! After packing up her things in Maryland, taking a few required courses in Pittsburgh, and spending some family time back in Atlanta, Brittany moved to Adelaide in August 2019.
Future home abroad
Take pursuing graduate studies after years of being out of school, plus moving to a country whose time zone is 15.5 hours ahead of home, and it's safe to say that Brittany has been dealing with a lot of transition at once. She had never been to Australia before, and she's had to take initiative to make new friends and form her own network in Adelaide. Thankfully, she's found friends in a fellow American CMU student as well as other Black women from various countries who are living in Australia and New Zealand. She makes the effort to be social and go to local events, and besides Adelaide she has also visited the city of Melbourne. And most importantly, she's still enrolled in her program. So even with the various changes and adjustments she's had to get used to, obviously Brittany is doing something right.
As for the future, Brittany's still taking her time to decide what's best for her. While she does want to live abroad long-term and has looked into options for extending her stay in Australia, she doesn't want to live down under forever. Preserving her sense of self is a major factor in this. So far, she has found Adelaide to be a pleasantly livable place with a diverse student population. But as someone who has lived most of her life surrounded by other Black people, Australia is frankly a lot whiter than what Brittany's used to. For her future home, she's more drawn to parts of Latin America, Europe, and Africa. In the meantime, Brittany is taking advantage of her current location and exploring more places in the Pacific. Just recently she spent most of her end-of-semester break in Indonesia and the Philippines, she wants to visit more Australian cities, and this summer (winter in Australia) she hopes to do her required internship in a Pacific island such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, or Palau. Brittany can be found on Instagram (@hungryblackgirltravels), her podcast Hungry Black Girl Travels (Soundcloud / Spotify), and hopefully soon on her new website as well.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Follow Through. (ADELAIDE)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
"Studying Abroad All Over The World" (HBGT episode about studying abroad)
UNCF Dr. Joseph A. Towles African Study Abroad Scholarship (for HBCU students studying in Africa)