Kia Johnson, Minnesota native, has made it her mission to explore the world and soak up new experiences on not just one, but several different continents. She's a fitness enthusiast and lover of all things travel related. After venturing to Spain to improve her Spanish, she accepted a coveted Fulbright Fellowship in Lima, Peru where she currently resides. Check out our exclusive interview with Kia as she tells us a bit about her adventures, hobbies and how she makes time to travel and pursue her passions for language and fitness.
“Rapid Fire: Top Three”
How would your best friend describe you in 3 words?
Ambitious, good-hearted, intelligent (I had to ask a couple of my friends to answer this!)
What are your 3 beauty must-haves?
Truth is, I rarely wear make-up but now that I am natural and finally figuring out what to do with this mane I would say: Coconut or olive oil, curlying cream and mascara!
Name 3 of your favorite Instagrammers.
I'm a huge fitness fanatic so I would have to say @MankoFit cause she´s a boss a** chick, @ProgressiveCalisthenics because seriously these people make you question whether gravity is real, and anyone who posts funny memes.
Tell us 3 places on your travel bucket list.
Probably the most difficult question because once you start traveling to more places your bucket list gets longer rather than shorter but...
Cuba, I find Cuban history, politics and culture extremely fascinating. Africa, Africa is huge I know, but I would love to visit Tanzania, South Africa or Ethiopia. Finally, Southeast Asia. Tigers, elephants and a culture completely different than my own… but you had me at tigers.
What brought you to Spain and are you still here?
I wanted to get a minor in Spanish in college and obviously, the best way to learn a second language is to immerse yourself. Truth is, I did NOT want to go to Spain and my biggest fear was to leave Spain with a Spanish accent (“the lisp" as Latinos and Americans would call it). However, I wasn't confident enough in my Spanish to have 100% of my courses in Spanish as they would have been in Latin America. Well long story short, I went to Spain for a semester, fell in love and dream of going back all the time.
What are some of your hobbies and how do you make time for them while living abroad?
Fitness, dancing and sports… you always find a way to make time for the things and people you love.
Traveling is not always rainbows and unicorns. When you’re having a bad day, what always cheers you up?
The best way to cheer me up is to do something that makes me feel confident. For me, that would be exercise, dancing, and productivity; I'm always happy after a productive day.
You’re hosting a dinner party in 7 hours: what’s your go-to meal that never fails?
Ah man, If I'm back in the states... homemade mac n cheese with bacon. If I'm abroad, I would say rosemary chicken, potatoes and asparagus. Now I'm hungry...
Who is your fashion spirit animal?
Truth is, I have zero fashion sense and grew up a tomboy my entire life. So basically, anyone I see in a Nike ad.
What is it like traveling around the world as a black woman?
I've been to a total of 16 countries in Europe + Turkey (yes, Turkey is in Europe but it's different), Caribbean, Central America, South America and Egypt. I would have to say traveling while black is my biggest advantage. No one seeks me out as a tourist aka no one assumes I have a lot of money. People don't try to jack up prices on me as often. I'm less likely to be targeted for a robbery or other small crimes against me and in general I'm able to blend in pretty well with the country that I'm in. Blonde hair and blue eyes sticks out like a sore thumb.
People think I'm from everywhere but the United States and sadly, this is actually an advantage.
Traveling as a black individual also has made me appreciate black culture more and also to realize the similarities between black cultures all over the world. It's incredible to see how similar African Americans are to Dominicans, Haitians, Afroperuvians, Colombians, etc… we speak different languages but there is something in our blood that makes us so incredibly similar: how passionate we are when we speak, how open and warm our cultures are (and loud… sorry y'all but black folks really are loud), our love for music and dance, even similarities in taste for food and drink.
Traveling while black allows you to see how African culture has influenced the entire world and how while sometimes it doesn't seem like the world values and appreciates this contribution, the contribution is still incredible. Even just going out dancing — salsa, bachata, merengue, tango, hip hop… all dances born in the streets of poor black communities which are now high class dances all over the world. The more I travel, the more I throw my first up and “Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud.” Obviously there are negatives to traveling while black — black women are stereotyped to be more exotic and sexual, blacks are typically among the lowest social class all over the world (I was honestly refused service at a tourist spot in the DR once because they thought I was Dominican and didn't know I was from the US), but overall I think being a woman of color has turned out to be my biggest advantage throughout my travels.
You’re currently doing a Fulbright Fellowship. Can you tell us more about it? What is the selection process like?
The Fulbright program has been around since 1946. It is a very prestigious grant awarded by the U.S. Department of State and home to 53 Nobel Prize winners from 13 different. Blah, Blah Blah… So what is it?
It's basically cultural exchange where the U.S. sends scholars to other countries around the world and also brings scholars into the states. They may be language teaching assistants, carrying out research projects, or doing some sort of project in the arts. The grants are awarded at all levels: post-baccalaureate, graduate, post-graduate, etc. The idea is that both countries benefit from the exchange, and the program is still around, so it seems to be working! It's a pretty competitive grant, probability of getting accepted depends on the country, for Peru it was 8%.
So, as the winner of this prestigious fellowship, tell us about a day in the life of a Fulbright fellow from sun up to sun down?
I am in Peru as an English teaching assistant so my role has 2 parts: Half of my time is spend at the university and the other half is working on a community project.
I am at the University of Technology and Engineering (UTEC) where I host study groups and help the students one-on-one with their English. They are all engineering students and since I studied science and did scientific research around the United States, I am also able to help them with technical English. UTEC partners with Harvard, MIT and Purdue, so my students have to have a good level of English before heading to these universities to study abroad or carry-out internships.
I am currently working on two community projects. One is called “Together Everything is Possible.” Where we work as a group of volunteers helping out at orphanages with the goal of exposing these youth to different career opportunities as well as providing them with the skills and resources that they can use in their future. All of the volunteers come from different backgrounds: DJ's, models, photographers, financial analysts, lawyers, chefs, professional athletes, dancers, etc. The idea is that this diversity with help these children who, likely due to their social class, may not have considered these opportunities otherwise. If you want to check out and like our page here it is.
The second project which is quite young and still requires government permission to even begin, is called “Lima más verde.” The goal of the project is to turn unused areas in poorer communities into green areas that the community can use to grow vegetables, herbs, etc.
You’ve switched continents completely! What are the 3 most noticeable differences between living in Europe (Spain) and South America (Perú)?
Well, the most obvious would be poverty and lack of resources. Second, would be the lack of organization and rules (you have to sit in traffic in Lima or Cairo for one day to understand what I mean.)
While this may sound like a negative thing, sometimes it really works out in your favor. First world countries are quite regulated, which often limits the experiences one could have. In a third world country, anything goes… which really makes for some unique experiences and opportunities; I would definitely say life is more adventurous. Overall, things are just different culturally and I'm not exactly sure how to explain why or how that is, but it's really a matter of experience. There is music everywhere, locals selling food on every corner, the fruit or vegetable guy walking down the street selling avocados, bananas, etc. Life is just different and there is no way to explain it, you have to experience it.
So, the million-dollar question... where to next?
I'm honestly not sure. In a perfect world, I would travel until next fall and then start medical school but on this one I would have to go with Luis Enrique: yo no sé mañana.
Please, let us know where we can find more of you!
Follow me on Instagram!!! Half_Blood_O_o (I may or may not love Harry Potter)
Interview by Danni Roseman. Danni, Community Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native who currently resides in Madrid, Spain. She's a lover of language, words, and travel and has managed to combine all her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flights deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES.