On January 11, 2023, a group of 16 students from Douglass Residential College, Rutgers University, led by Dr Hasnaa Mokhtar, visited the Women’s Cultural and Social Society (WCSS) in Kuwait City. While “study abroad” programs are intended for cross-cultural understanding and global education, most students in the US encounter differences in others through a colonial mindset and the white savior complex. Despite our world becoming increasingly interconnected, global systems of inequality, power, privilege, and difference are always present. We grappled with themes of neocolonialism, decolonization, eurocentrism, and imperialism prior, during, and after our visit to Kuwait through our feminist ideologies. That entailed deep critical thinking of not only our experiences in a foreign country, but also unsettling, challenging, and validating our thoughts, feelings, reactions, and prejudices altogether including our understanding of feminism.

Complexity and self-accountability get lost when critique, power, and self-righteousness cloud our judgment, thus misleading us to construct fixed and simplistic narratives about the “other” and their struggles. A phenomenon the Nigerian feminist and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie coined as The Danger of the Single Story. “It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power… Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” We understood the weight of our commitment toward communities being visited, researched, and depicted through a different lens. That is why determining what counts as anticolonial feminist theory “within and beyond the scholarship of feminists of color is a complicated matter.” What we learned though is that we ought to cultivate intellectual humility to admit to partial and complicated worldviews that might make us uncomfortable, because, as Dr. Mokhtar notes in the introductions to all of her classes, “knowledge that doesn’t break your heart open to transformation isn’t worth learning.” To reflect on how this experience challenged and re-shaped our understanding of ourselves and the world, we relay some personalized reflections to conclude.

Rachel D. Perez: As a student interested in decolonial feminism theory, this trip changed my perspective not just as a scholar but as a researcher. Scholars are not offered opportunities where they get to see with their own eyes, not through propaganda published by governments, the media, or other outlets. I can assure you this research trip made me more aware of my responsibilities as a scholar to challenge academia, and as a citizen to require more transparency within the international community.Nicolette Alexandra Brito-Cruz: Going to Kuwait after having spent a semester learning about the effects of colonization and the importance of decolonizing oneself has shown me that history goes beyond textbooks. As decolonial feminists, it is crucial to question who writes mainstream history, to seek diverse perspectives, and, most importantly, to not have a savior complex when learning about others’ struggles.

Kyleigh Magee: This research trip to Kuwait highlighted the importance of international solidarity within global feminism. Decolonial and intersectional feminism has always been important to me. While I have always focused on decolonization in my academic career and personal activism, this trip showcased the real-life effects of how colonization creates similar problems for women globally. Although issues affecting women and gender minorities take different forms in different contexts, the root causes of these issues, colonialism, remains the same. As a result, international solidarity and a decolonial approach to feminism is key to understanding issues affecting women, and is also crucial in bringing about change in one’s own community.

Komal Mir: The experience helped decolonize my perspective and challenge western exceptionalism by showing how similar social issues are in Kuwait and the U.S. but in different contexts. It allowed us to better compare the issues at hand, as well as the complexity of feminism in different parts of the world. It is easy to look at other countries and their problems and feel pity for them or try to “help” them, but it takes more to look around and realize that we are no different and that our “help” is a consequence of the savior complex. As a researcher, finding credible information is hard and important. With this experience, I learned how to read between the lines to be able to differentiate between biased and unbiased sources of information. While it is not so easy and simple, this differentiation, can allow decolonization of knowledge and feminism.

Hasnaa Mokhtar

Kyleigh Magee

Nicolette Alexandra Brito-Cruz

Rachel D. Perez

Hasnaa Mokhtar is a researcher, writer, advocate, and cultural leader with expertise on violence prevention, intervention, gender justice, and sustainable development.

Komal Mir is a Clinical Research Coordinator at NJ Heart/NJ MedCare.

Kyleigh Magee is a fourth-year student at Rutgers University studying English.

Nicolette Alexandra Brito-Cruz is a first-generation, fourth-year undergraduate student at Rutgers University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Media Studies and Italian, with a minor in Women and Gender Studies.

Rachel D. Perez is a B.A candidate in Philosophy and Spanish at Rutgers University.

The text has been adopted from a much longer article that appeared in Security Context in Feb 1 2024.