In high school, I learned of a new term – worldview. A worldview is a cognitive perception of the world and cultures. It is a simple word and has a simple meaning, but I did not understand the importance of worldview until I began to study how it affects the way we live our lives. I definitely formed into a traveler while growing up. My family and I would take road trips to Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Washington D.C., and New York. We often visited Mexico, Bahamas, Dominican Republic and other Islands in the Caribbean. I was exposed to diversity from all throughout my childhood; my passion for travel and learning more about this amazing world has been a part of my essence since then. However, I did not understand the importance of traveling the world until I learned the true meaning of a worldview. From that point on, I had an urge to be in an environment that was not like my own. This urge was not for own enjoyment, but to widen my worldview so that I could be exposed to the unknown. Since then, I have participated in four programs abroad: an exchange program in Japan, a study abroad program in the Virgin Islands, a shadowing program in Costa Rica, and a leadership program in Ghana. Each of these experiences impacted my life and exposed me to new foods, new careers, and new religions.
Birmingham – Hitachi Sister City Program
(Japan – Summer 2016)
In the summer of 2016, I got the opportunity to travel abroad on my own. I was completely terrified. Would my host family like me? Do I know enough Japanese to at least say “Good Morning”? How will I like the food? There were so many questions and they all came with a little bit of anxiety. It was not until the night before my departure when I received an email from my host family. This email gave me the comfort I needed to enjoy my first journey abroad. The first week in Hitachi completely emerged me in the Japanese culture as I visited multiple shrines, met students of various ages, and ate home cooked meals that were undeniably fresh. I formed a bond with my host family that has yet to be broken. They welcomed me for who I was. The second week in Japan was spent in the large city of Tokyo. During this time, I was able to walk the busy streets, shop in the biggest shopping malls, and ride a bullet train. I was completely in awe of how much I loved being outside of the U.S. and how much I was able to learn by experiencing a unique culture. Traveling the world was my new hobby.
Pre-Freshman PLUS Program
(US and British Virgin Islands – Summer 2017)
It is the summer of 2017. I just graduated high school and I am preparing to move to Auburn University for my freshman year of college. But before I even step foot on campus, I am going to study Marine Biology at the University of Virgin Islands. Doing this second program abroad made me proud because I was keeping my word to travel the world. The experience was exactly what I expected, full of fun, learning, and gratitude. While on the islands, we stayed in the nicest dorm on campus, ate at the cafeteria alongside native students, and studied the importance of sustainability inside and outside the classroom. Some days we would do activities learning about the conservation of goods and how the people maintain a proper lifestyle. Other days we would go on an extravagant adventure canoeing, snorkeling, or exploring the amazing natural sites that reside on the islands. This program allowed me to do things I would have never thought I would do in my lifetime. It was the thrust I needed to get out of my comfort zone.
Vida Veterinary Volunteer Program
(Costa Rica – Summer 2018)
My family and I left Birmingham at around 12:30 in the morning. I was tired but fairly excited because this would be my first time in Central America and my first time getting true veterinary experience. We arrived at the Atlanta airport at around 3:30 a.m. with a lot of stress over the weight of my luggage. From my past experiences abroad, I have learned that I love to overpack and the scale during check-in was not my best friend. To relieve the problem my mom and I shifted some items around and successfully defeated this stress. I was off on my own again on a journey to Costa Rica. The country was filled with beautiful mountains, fresh fruits, and its Spanish speaking people. It was the first time I actually got to put my Spanish skills to the test and I learned that I was average when communicating with the people. However, that was not the goal regarding the program. The goal was to help low income communities by providing free veterinary services to their family pets. I was able to prep dogs and cats for surgery, work alongside a veterinarian during that surgery, and help with the recovery process of those animals. The experience was completely eye opening. I was able to live the life of a vet in a length of two weeks.
AU Office of Inclusion and Diversity Auburn GO Program
(Ghana – Summer 2018)
When I first became aware of this program, I immediately jumped for the opportunity. I never stepped foot on my native land before. Going into this program, I expected to gain leadership skills, communication skills, and a sense of appreciation for my culture. While in Ghana, I met many executive leaders that were successfully working to improve the lifestyle of the Ghanaian people. As a student ambassador, I was able to express my experience on the Auburn University campus, discuss issues that many American college students endure, and learn how universities in Ghana build a sustainable future for its people. This experience not only allowed me to embrace the African culture but introduced another level of gratitude for the lifestyle that I am able to live.
These programs abroad gave me a taste of four unique territories. Each country embracing me into its culture and way of living. The experience that came with each embrace added a new perspective to my worldview that will follow me through the rest of my life.
Naja K. Williams