What comes to mind when you hear the word Africa? For most young and privileged Americans, it would be animals, safari, diamonds, slavery, poverty, and black people would come to mind. My experience in the summer of 2015 was the complete opposite of the stereotype that comes with Africa and its people.
It was my cousin who had recommended this entrepreneurial leadership program for my sister and me in South Africa. Despite being apprehensive, we were even more excited and decided to apply. Following our acceptance, we began to research, inform ourselves about what exactly what we were getting ourselves into. After a week of anxiousness, I started to understand the importance and uniqueness of the opportunity I had been given and would not let anything or anybody get in the way of achieving my goal – taking advantage of what I learned and soak up all of what South Africa had to offer.
Not being able to stop imagining what my life was going to be like for the next three weeks, I wondered what I was going to learn and who I would meet. With hopes for a smile from my sister to reassure me of our decision to go on this journey, I looked in the opposite direction to find Luca, a sixteen-year-old boy, wearing reflective blue aviators, cargo shorts and a scarf that spoke with a French accent. This was to be the first of many introductions and different encounters with the different people I was to meet during the camp. There was no way I could be prepared for my mental and emotional changes I was about to face.
I felt empowered, courageous and confident. I am glad that the perception I had of myself was only temporary, with new experiences, there was only room for me to grow. The Global Scholars Program was the truest form of a life changing experience I have ever had. Going back home, I felt like I had something to add to the conversation, not only what good leadership is, but also, I had the tools to be a great leader. Even before I came home, I used these tools in what was the most memorable experience of my trip.
The first night that all of the students arrived, we were told to introduce ourselves to new people. Timid but knowing I might not get another opportunity like this, I walked up to a tall, black male and introduced myself. He smiled, and said his name was Trevor and asked me where I was from. I replied with a proud “U.S. accent”, and asked him the same question. Trevor’s smile immediately went from excited to anxious and replied, “I don’t want to tell you… I’m too embarrassed.” Puzzled, I yearned him on to answer my question. Finally, he said “Kenya.” Although I was thrilled to be speaking with a Kenyan, it seemed apparent that he was even more excited to be speaking with an American. While making me aware of American perception, this experience opened my eyes to exactly why I came to South Africa: to practice being open-minded, to look at all things and people as equals, and not to waiver from my beliefs.
Since being back at school, I feel more sure of myself than ever; I feel able to speak up for myself and those who support my leadership. All people change over the course of time in different ways; but I, with certainty can say that 2015 has been a transformative year for me in so many ways. Gaining an understanding of different life experiences was another enriching piece of my adventure. With the wisdom and new perspective I have not only on the world, but also on myself, I feel even more motivated for whatever my next challenge brings.