Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Susan Yin/Unsplash

Chanel Powell: Life on a Military Base

Chanel Powell is a Sophomore at Williams and lives with her family at an American Military Base in Italy. Her experience is unique not only because it concerns her family’s status within the military, but also her gender, race and nationality. She’s had to go through a very unconventional experience by growing up in another country, and she sat with me to talk about her perspective. Although it’s only one perspective, Chanel’s story does a good job characterizing the kind of life you would have being an American growing up on an international military base.

                                                                                                                                                                       Vicenza, Italy

As an American woman of color, Chanel has received a number of benefits from being American, but she does acknowledge that racism still exists at a place so distant from U.S.’s hostile race relations and corrupt cultural racism like her base.


Racism, she says, spans to her small base, but is not the same kind or felt as strongly as in America.


Chanel shares that although race is the first thing that someone sees at her base, much more significance is put on someone’s nationality and their origin of birth than their skin color.


In Italy, black Americans are regarded much more highly than black Africans. Chanel says those who live at the base and native Italians tend to perceive immigrants from America, regardless of skin color, as being well-off and treated as among the elite, while those from Africa, or other non-western countries, are in Italy to take the jobs away from native Italians.


Chanel explains that the lack of available jobs and low unemployment rates are a product of Italy’s corrupt government where the mafia is still very active and blends in among the seemingly law-abiding leaders. This cultural racism is very different form of discrimination, but is similarly rooted in the systematic pitfalls of the country.


Although Chanel feels that she benefits from being an American at her base, and would much rather prefer being black in Italy than in America, her skin color does make her a bit of an outsider. Now that she’s attending school in America, her main concern is navigating the race relations on campus, and off campus, and keeping her family living comfortably in Italy.


Because Chanel’s Dad is retired from the military, her family has to apply to continue living on the base and receiving the privileges that come with being a part of a military family. She loves life on a base. There were plenty of benefits that you couldn’t find in any American town. The gym is free, food is cheap, and everyone had gas coupons. Sounds like a great setup, right? Chanel’s love for her home is the reason why she wants to go back to Europe after graduation. She’s enjoyed her time at Williams, but she would much rather live in Italy than in America where it would be hard for her military family to assimilate and live a comfortable life with very few resources.

*Pictures of the base are not shown because it is agains US personal safety to take pictures of the base.*

Nica is a Senior at Williams College majoring in Biology and taking pre-medical courses. She is a member of Ritmo Latino and GQ A cappella. Her passions include public health, reading, and yoga.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️