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By Meghan Sowersby, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
I have always seen myself as a transient figure.
Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I had an international mindset because my mother was from Jamaica and I had family members living in various states and time zones around the world. If I didn’t pick up after myself at home, my mother would teasingly call me a “spoiled American.” I’ve always felt that the United States was my home, but I couldn’t be narrowly defined by the United States as my place of birth. I had to view the rest of the world to understand my origin.
The Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship program provided me an affordable way to connect with a part of my identity, while studying in London for four weeks. Although I have family there, it was my first time visiting London, and the experience taught me the importance of global studies.
I had previously studied abroad in 2016 during a three-week hike of El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James — a religious pilgrimage through Spain. My eyes opened to how vast and special each culture is, as I met people from different parts of the world— Argentina, Portugal, Sri Lanka and Nigeria — along with locals from Spain.
It was interesting to me how so many people from such different places convened in Spain for the spiritual rite. I often thought of the lifestyle my mother had built for my family in the United States and compared it with my mother’s own upbringing in Jamaica. I wondered who she had to become in order to make the transition into a new country and new life.
In London, I placed this introspective, microscopic lens on myself: what kind of friend, colleague and student am I in high-pressure situations? How do I respond to stress when I am not surrounded by people that I know and spend time with everyday? I had to reflect on how being outside of my comfort zone challenged me, and while it didn’t always necessarily feel good, I am grateful for the experience because I grew in ways I that I had never imagined.
The students from London and other fellows in my cohort challenged me and, in the process, became my family. We laughed, cried and learned together as we figured out how to use the British public transportation system, tasted new foods and shared our most intimate details with each other. One of my cohort members, Peire Wilson, became a mentor to me, and last year, I met up with some of the 2017 and 2018 cohort fellows for a “Black Panther” screening in Boston. The network I gained from my time in London was one of the most significant impacts that the trip had on my life.
My time as a fellow in London also acted as a catalyst for my interest in diversity and global studies. Foreign travel is considered a luxury, but I also believe there are valuable skills students gain from living abroad. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, my experiences in London taught me it is important to address why opportunities to study abroad are so limited for marginalized students of color — whether this is due to lack of economic resources or access to higher education.
In the same way that the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship provides opportunities for marginalized students to live and study abroad, I hope to also increase access for students of color to global study experiences. The Frederick Douglass Global Fellows program shaped me in ways that I know will have a lifelong impact. Now, I want to explore how I can share those benefits with others.
The prestigious Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship is awarded annually to 10 outstanding freshmen and sophmores from Minority Serving Institutions across the country. This award covers all costs of participation in four-week, three-credit summer study abroad experience that this year will be held in London. Any qualified applicants not selected for the Fellowship will still receive a $1500 grant toward select study abroad programs. Details of the program and eligibility requirements are HERE.