Studying abroad opens your eyes to a lot of things. Clean, safe and timely public transportation is possible, smoking like a chimney is not condemned everywhere, small talk is not a universal custom and European pastries are gifts from the gods.
All of this I could have anticipated from past stories of friends who ventured across the pond before I did. However, there are certain differences between European and American cultures that are not openly discussed.
I am currently studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, and upon my arrival, I quickly realized it is not the land of diversity America is.
Overwhelmingly, most people here are white. Even the majority of ethnic minorities in Austria are white such as Croatian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak. Turkish people are the main minority of color here. Almost all these people immigrated from countries bordering Austria.
The ethnic makeup of America is clearly much more global due to the early colonization of America as well as attracting higher levels of immigration from people all over the world who come to chase “the American dream.”
Through conversations I have had with Austrians here at the Webster Vienna campus, I have learned that racism is still a problem in Austria and Europe as a whole. However, much of the racial tensions in Austria and other European countries are not black and white issues as they more often are in the U.S. According to the 2016 annual report from the anti-discrimination organization ZARA, two-thirds of the racist remarks or acts recorded in Austria referred to refugees and were directed toward either asylum seekers or people supporting them.
Austria has a history of being multicultural and diverse as well as welcoming immigrants and housing many international business headquarters. However, there are two existing and powerful political parties in Austria that align with the far right and have an aversion to refugees, immigrants, minority religions and differing cultures.
Both the U.S and much of Europe struggle with the immigration of certain ethnic groups and islamophobia. For example, undocumented immigrants in the U.S and refugees (mainly from Arab nations) seeking asylum in Europe. While Austria is less of a global melting pot than the United States, there are still many Austrians fighting for the equality of all peoples regardless of race, religion or ethnic background.
According to the Austrian Embassy, the Austrian Federal Constitution calls for the respect and promotion of ethnic groups resident in Austria. There are even special rights for certain ethnic minorities in Austria to fight against discrimination toward immigrants and ethnic minorities.
Europe does not have the same history with people of color that America does. The struggles with diversity in Europe are more focused on religious differences and the refugee population in the current environment. As of 2016, there are 21,628 refugees legally taking asylum in Austria.
While the ethnic demographics are different in Europe, the same struggles against xenophobia, racism and religious discrimination exist. Unfortunately, struggling to accept people for their differences seems to be a universal problem.