In my family, international travel wasn’t something we did; growing up, vacations typically involved going to see extended family in rural South Carolina.
Neither of my parents even had a passport at the time. However, they valued education above all else and made the necessary financial sacrifices to ensure that my sister and I had access to experiences far beyond those available to them in their own childhoods.
Today, the whole world is my home…I just happen to be fortunate enough to have made personal connections that keep some places closer to my heart than others.
What is your advice to aspiring global citizens?
Here is a summary of how I’ve made it work:
|Spain (1992)||Personal fundraising and parental support|
|Japan (1995)||Full Scholarship through Youth for Understanding|
|Japan (1999)||Carryover of university scholarship plus additional grants from Study Abroad Program and International Business Dept. Chair|
|Venezuela (2000)||Personal savings from investment banking signing bonus|
|Backpacking world tour (2004)||Personal savings ($15k for 9 months all-in)|
|Dominican Republic (2004/2005)||Got paid job teaching advanced English with Berlitz to pay living expenses|
|UK – Masters program at the London School of Economics (2006/2007)||Full tuition scholarship + student loans for living expenses|
|Jordan – Emerging Markets Development Advisers Program (2007/2008)||Paid working fellowship affiliated with IIE / USAID|
|United Arab Emirates (2010-2014)||Paid full-time employment; accepted foreign internship during US-based MBA program and received full-time offer after graduation|
|Brazil (2014-present)||Paid full-time employment; relocated from UAE to Brazil by employer to open local office|
At 16, I won a scholarship for a summer abroad in Japan. Despite the fact that I was studying Spanish and French in school, my teacher recognized this as a unique opportunity for me to further my strong interest in languages and cultures. Unlike the group trip to Spain, in which I visited a new place insulated by familiar faces from home, Japan was the first time I embarked on an international trip on my own. As a result, it was the first time I completely pushed through the barriers of my comfort zone (new language, new food, living with a host family, attending a non-English language school) to see the world from a different perspective.
To this day, I consider those six weeks to have been fundamentally life-changing. They laid the foundation for me to return to Japan for a full semester during my junior year in college, take off for a 4-week solo trip to Venezuela immediately after graduation, quit my job in 2004 for 6 months of independent backpacking through Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and turn a 3-month language course in the Dominican Republic into an 18-month community development project.
With the courage and experiences that came from each of those earlier adventures, today I no longer see international travel as a discrete endeavor. It is just my life.
Core pieces of my education and professional career have been formed on four different continents, and after nearly 15 years of intermittently threading my way around the world, spending the weekend in São Paulo or Amsterdam is no different to me than hopping a train from NY to DC.
I will always be strong in my American identity, but I have learned to make space for that alongside my role as a global citizen.
Japan: Full Scholarship through Youth for Understanding
Venezuela: Personal savings from investment banking signing bonus
Dominican Republic: Paid English teaching job with Berlitz
UK: Full scholarship-funded Masters program at the London School of Economics (2006/2007)
Jordan: Paid working fellowship affiliated with IIE / USAID
UAE: Paid full-time employment with investment fund
Brazil: Paid fulltime employment, transfer from UAE employer
What is one of your most profound experiences living across cultures or nations?
The most profound experience [of my international life] is actually the culmination of a collection of incidents that have helped me to redefine my “Blackness”. I have been an instant star for photo ops in China, asked to sing in Japan, mistaken for a sex worker in Europe and the Middle East, told I wasn’t “Black” in the Dominican Republic in favor of a more palatable racial designation, and been asked to explain where my family comes from even after I have said I am American (my personal favorite, since we all know Americans are white).
I can’t lie and say I look back on all of these experiences fondly. Some have been downright humiliating. However, I have learned to read situations and separate out those who deserve nothing more than my disdain (and maybe my middle finger) from well-meaning individuals who simply haven’t been exposed to people like me. In those special cases, I am grateful for the opportunity to be in a position to provide a small peek into my own culture and history for someone else. Through the shared stories, ranging from family and faith to discrimination and prejudice, the commonalities that I have found all over the world have made my own cultural identity more fluid, and yet even more precious at the same time.
My advice to aspiring global citizens: Be open. Depending on where you are in your life, find the right avenues to get out of your comfort zone.
What organizations, programs, internships, or volunteer opportunities should be highlighted, as part of your globalcreating story?
Start where you are. If you can’t afford the plane ticket, look for a cultural center in your city. If you can’t find that, get into an online community and start talking to people. It doesn’t matter how big the step, just make sure you take one to expand your circle somehow.
For younger students, I know that money is often an obstacle to getting access to these experiences. I encourage people to do the research on programs from organizations such as: Youth for Understanding, the Fulbright Program, Peace Corps, Endeavor, Rotary Foundation, and Institute for International Education. In addition, it is important to reach out to your university study abroad offices and related academic departments for support; there are often pockets of funds to support students in these endeavors.
For professionals, take advantage of international assignments within your companies or even seek out direct hire roles with foreign companies. If these are not directly available, pursuing a formal advanced degree at a foreign university (many qualify for US Student Loans) or participating in a mid-career program from one of the abovementioned organizations can also be an effective catalyst to get you on the ground.
(To those who feel they can’t afford to take the risk, I’ve seen the competition out there, and I say you can’t afford not to.)