"No matter where you are in life, the world is waiting to hear your story"
Meet Peire Wilson
School: City College of New York
Study abroad: London, England
Exchange period: Summer, 2017
How did you learn about your study abroad program?
I studied abroad to London, England through the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship (FDGF), an initiative facilitated by a partnership between the Penn Center of Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) and Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). I was informed of this program by the associate director of global learning initiatives at LaGuardia Community College, where I was a student.
Why did you choose to go to that location?
The location of the program was determined by the FDGF. However, when I saw that the fellowship was going to London I was compelled to apply. I had learned through reading and research that most world leaders, culture shapers, and progressive thinkers studied at some point either in England or France, so I knew that I had to study in one or both countries.
How did you adapt to a new environment & culture?
I found a lot of similarities between my home city of New York and London because they both operated as a metropolis, so adapting to the fast paced and urban environment was not difficult. However, adjusting to the culture was a struggle. Within the more traditional structure of English society and public, I began to long for the hustle and bustle of New York City. As an American accustomed to direct speech, the indirect and implied communication styles of British culture could cause miscommunications, but I learned how to adapt to and understand the various nuances in body language and gestures of British society. The English food culture also took some time for me to adapt to, the smaller portion sizes and flavorings originally were not my taste, but I was able to find dishes that I enjoyed.
What activity did you enjoy most within your program?
My most enjoyable activity abroad was CIEE’s overnight cultural excursion to Belfast, Northern Ireland. During our stay we visited the Action for Community Transformation (ACT) Initiative Headquarters. ACT is a program started by a former Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) political prisoner who hopes to rebuild intercommunal trust in Belfast through collaborative leadership and desegregated education. We also met with a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party at the Northern Ireland Parliament. We engaged in dialogue about the current political and economic climate in Northern Ireland, Brexit and the effect of the American political system on foreign governments. Finally, I met with the commanding officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. They shared how they were able to successfully implement community policing after the “troubles”. This was insightful as we look at police reform in the United States after a spike in policing killings involving black men.
What did you gain from abroad that was most rewarding?
I gained a better perspective on the African American experience globally and domestically. Furthermore, I had a growing interest in political science, so the experience allowed me to gain firsthand experience in political culture, foreign diplomacy, and international economics. My experiences abroad encouraged me to declare a political science major with a minor in anthropology and international studies.
When talking about your experience abroad to others, what is the go to story you always tell?
I have two stories that I tell whenever someone asks about my study abroad experience. First, is the time that I met the great-great granddaughter of Frederick Douglass and the great granddaughter of Booker T. Washington, Nettie Washington Douglass. Both men are regarded as being the framers of African-American intellectual thought related to separation versus integration. Today, these theories are still topics of great debate amongst the black intelligentsia. The opportunity to meet a living relative from such a prestigious and influential heritage was life changing. We had an intimate and impactful conversation about her experiences growing up in this lineage over high tea at the British Museum, specifically, all the great debates between intellectuals that took place in her home and also the struggles of living up to high expectations.
The second story is my visit to an Islamic mosque in London, an experience that forced me to confront my personal bias and deal with prejudices embedded in me that I had not realized existed. I prided myself on being open minded and tolerant of people from different cultures and religious backgrounds, but it was not until I was in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar situation that I was forced to address my own prejudices, it was eye-opening.
If you could give advice to someone interested in studying abroad, what would you say?
No matter where you are in life, the world is waiting to hear your story.