I dreamt big in high school.
But I never imagined I’d make sand sculptures with local community groups in Trinidad, honoring the journey of the leatherback sea turtle.
I never imagined I would learn bachata in the Dominican Republic, and in turn, teach a Bhangra workshop to beloved members of the town of Monte Cristi.
I never imagined I’d climb the Great Wall of China in Beijing, reflecting on the centuries of history rising up all around me.
Thanks to the support of the Goodnight Scholars Program, I have had the opportunity to learn from communities around the world. My personal transformation through each journey has been tremendous.
I set my driving goal for my undergraduate degree when I was in high school. No matter where I find myself in the world, I should be able to thrive both professionally and personally. That’s precisely why I selected my degree path; I felt that mathematics and computer science transcended borders. Through these enriching trips, I’ve been able to take my goal for an internationally-oriented education to the next level.
Prior to college, traveling abroad for learning or for a vacation was simply not possible financially. My experiences abroad prior to college had been to India, for which I am very grateful. Around every 4-5 years, my family and I travel to India to reconnect with family members in our home state of Tamil Nadu. The three weeks there often fly by, while we make memories that we cherish when we return to our lives in the United States.
As a freshly minted first-year student, the idea to apply to travel opportunities began to take root in my mind. In the Goodnight Scholars first-year seminar, we learned about the travel opportunities within the Program and throughout NC State. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and try something completely new, while engaging with the Goodnight Scholars community. The summer exchange program to Hangzhou, China was my perfect fit, because of its engineering focus, its partnership with the Goodnight Scholars Program, and the unique opportunity to explore China in a way I may not be able to again.
Reflecting on my Summer Exchange program in China, I wrote:
“This past summer was like none other. China gave me so much: a sense of adventure, a higher level of independence, some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life, and questions about individual and collective identities. When I set foot on the plane bound for Beijing, I had no idea what to expect. My time in China changed my life.
My greatest accomplishment on the trip was deciding to get on my bike with my mini-backpack and explore the city of Hangzhou. Whether I was venturing to the National Tea Museum, West Lake, or a gorgeous bamboo forest in the pouring rain, I went out of my comfort zone to explore Hangzhou – one of the most welcoming cities I’ve ever been in. Those were the times when I was able to reflect on my way of life – my ethnocentrism, my materialism, my privilege – and it was as these times when I started to define what really matters to me in life.”
Over spring break in 2017 and in 2018, I traveled to Trinidad and Tobago with the Goodnight Scholars Program. This Alternative Service Break (ASB) trip fundamentally changed who I am. Our goal was to learn about and help support conservation efforts in the region, but I gained so much more.
We immersed ourselves in the Asa Wright Nature Center, heart of Trinidad, and the rainforest of my wildest childhood dreams. Community members like the courageous and kind Winston greeted us and guided us with their words of truth.
We worked with young students at Trini primary schools and in turn, learned about their dreams for the Earth and how we can save it.
Among our team, we forged bonds so rare and strong.
During our Goodnight Scholars ASB Trip to Trinidad, I wrote:
“That view of the Trini horizon seemed even better the second time around. Not quite sure how to describe it, I just know it made me very happy…
The moments on the sand and at the beach were just so magical. There was one singular moment when I just looked out onto the beach and the horizon and thought of nothing else but the scene before me, and I felt the utmost happiness.”
My time in Trinidad transported me. It is a moment in time forever marked in mind as my time to grow.
Over winter break in 2017, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with Leadership and Civic Engagementat NC State. We were working with our long time partner, Outreach 360, which is an organization devoted to empowering students within the community of Monte Cristi by teaching them the English language and a path to personal growth.
After my ASB Trip to the Dominican Republic, I wrote:
“My time in the Dominican Republic was absolutely phenomenal. It will always resonate with me as this cherished moment in time when I was able to learn from and live with the community in Monte Cristi, and work with the powerful change agent that is Outreach 360. I met and will always hold dear many amigas queridas y amigos queridos who imparted upon me values I will take with me all my life…
I know that I have the ability to learn and grow alongside others across borders, across languages, across races. I catch the tide as it beckons. The Goodnight Scholars Program provides the sails. ”
Most recently, I had the chance to travel with the Goodnight Scholars Program on our annual fall break trip to Boston. We engaged with professionals at MIT and at Mass General, but we also had a great deal of time to engage with the city in our own way. We explored the best spots off the Boston harbor, found a magnificent view of the Boston skyline at night, and relaxed at cultural events that brought the city together.
On the flight home from Boston, I wrote:
“I feel transformed. I am transformed. And I don’t say that lightly. I can’t believe it’s only been four days. It feels like it’s been two weeks or more.
But then, also, it feels like only a moment ago that I imagined myself on the plane to Boston. I feel rejuvenated. I just do. These moments really helped me refocus. Helped me remember what’s important. Helped me calibrate myself. And find a balance. ”
I’ve given a great deal of thought to the phrase “that means the world to me.”
We use that term when something so thoughtful has been carried out on our behalf. The Goodnight Scholars Program has enriched my education beyond my wildest dreams. That has meant the world to me.
I try to live by Gloria Anzaldúa’s words in Borderlands: “Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.”
The Goodnight Scholars Program has given me a boarding pass. With it, I can help build communities that straddle seas. I can understand the borderlands that define me and that are continually evolving within me. With this boarding pass, I can travel through the rest of my life with the confidence that I can build bridges as I walk.
Photography credit: Gracie Hornsby/Goodnight Scholars Program, Chandra Manivannan/Goodnight Scholars Program