A suitcase full of hair products? Absolutely.
Traveling internationally is no easy feat, especially when you’re a woman of color with thick, curly locks that are prone to frizz.
That’s why students and staff at Virginia Wesleyan University teamed up with a travel blogger Wednesday night to discuss the dos and don’ts of being a curly girl while exploring the world.
About 30 people showed up to Clarke Hall to listen as students talked about how they cared for their hair during study abroad trips.
The panel was organized by travel blogger Javonni McGlaurin, the university’s Black Student Union and The Lighthouse, an on-campus group that connects students to career development and internships, study abroad and research programs.
McGlaurin said discussions about hair are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just one way of talking about race, ethnicity and how American women are perceived in other countries.
“Use this as a catalyst to do more research on that when you’re looking at different countries to go to,” she said.
There was a do-it-yourself table where visitors could learn about making their own hair products using ingredients easily found in different countries.
“Mayonnaise, eggs and different types of oil and honey, you can find them literally all around the world,” said Monique Ayers, who helped organize the event and is vice president of the Black Student Union.
She’s also treasurer for The Naturalista Club, an on-campus community of women with natural hair, which has about 20 members. Natural hair hasn’t been chemically straightened.
McGlaurin has been to 23 countries and documents her travels on her blog, The Natural Travelista. She’s also a university relations manager at the School for International Training. She visits colleges and attends study abroad fairs and other globally focused events to encourage students to study abroad.
When she travels, she typically packs three main products in travel-sized bottles: her homemade African black soap shampoo, dual-purpose conditioner that’s good for moisturizing and detangling and oil to lock in the moisture.
She puts her hair in puffs or styles that’ll last longer, she said.
“I’ll take three strands of hair, twist them around themselves, and I’ll usually wear them for a couple of days, maybe a week, and then I’ll untwist it,” said McGlaurin. “It’s gorgeous.”
One tip student panelists mentioned is packing your own hair products just in case your destination country doesn’t have them.
That’s what panelist Mikelah Bur did. She’s biracial — black and white — and has loose curls. She likes products made by a company called Cantu, including their leave-in conditioner.
Before heading to Spain for four months, she tried unsuccessfully to find stores there with her favorite hair products, so she brought her own.
“I had a whole suitcase of products,” she said. “I went to a grocery store at one point there just because I was curious, but I didn’t see anything.”
She said that in the states, she doesn’t wash her hair every day, but in Spain, she had to if she wanted her hair to look good during the day.
“I had to shower every morning before class,” Bur said. “That was probably the one thing that I changed.”
She also straightened her hair a lot. During a festival where everyone got off work, drank and ate food, she felt pressured to straighten her hair because most of the women in Spain have straight hair or looser curls, she said.
“I straightened my hair just to feel like I was fitting in,” she said.
She regrets doing it so much because when she came home, her ends were damaged. She also said lots of people wanted to touch her hair in Spain, or comb their fingers through it.
“When it was someone I knew, I would shoo them away and explain that running their fingers through my hair would mess up the curls,” Bur said. “If it was a Spaniard, communication was harder, so I would try to gently stop them and then show them with my own hand how it was OK to touch my hair.”
Another student panelist, 21-year-old Jocelin James, said people in Japan wanted to touch her hair, too. Her hair, she said, looks nothing like the straight, black hair that’s commonly seen in Japan.
“I was the only black person,” she said. “I definitely stood out a lot. I took it as an opportunity to teach people in a way. When people would come up to me and ask me about my hair, or they’d say ‘Can I touch it?’ I informed them that’s not really polite to do.”
Alaira Groomes, 20, was a panelist too. She relaxes her hair sometimes, straightening it with chemicals, and said it rained and snowed when she was in Prague.
“Sometimes I would put it in French braids or just leave it out just to see how my hair would manage,” she said. “I ended up just having to moisturize every day.”
She thinks it’s important for curly girls to be prepared and do research before traveling.
“Just know what climate you’re going into because a lot of people just get wrapped up in the excitement of going somewhere,” Groomes said. “They don’t really think it’s going to rain three days in a row.”
Publication: The Virginian-Pilot / October 17, 2019
Photo Credit: Pexels