Justine Ryan attended the illustrious Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is 23 years old, and has been to over 18 different countries (after this interview is published it will be 20). When she is not acting on stage, she is participating in community service, political campaigns, performing her duties as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and being a campus leader. Her goals in life are to act and sing around the world while also globally advocating for issues such as, hunger, equal education for all and the importance of arts in education.
What was your motivation for studying abroad?
I have always had a passion for different cultures. I realized that we focus on the differences between ourselves and another culture, we miss the similarities, and that is what I love to discover. Traveling helps me see the beauty that many overlook. That can helps widen your perspective on life, helps you better understand the world you live in and most importantly helps you understand yourself.
What is your favorite memory from study abroad?
My favorite memory about studying abroad was when I arrived in Ghana. (Here is an excerpt from my blog) ” I woke up this morning and realized that I WAS HOME!!!!! I was so excited!!! I jumped out of my bed and smiled in the mirror because I could feel that this was going to be an amazing day. I got dressed, ran to breakfast and ate. My friends at breakfast said there were drums being played when the ship docked. Unfortunately, I did not hear them, so I wasn’t able to show the ship my “Coming to Africa” dance moves. I finished breakfast I ran to my room to make sure I had everything I needed because today I am going to the (African drum roll and dancers please) THE SLAVE CASTLES today!! I will connect with my ancestors. I am shaking with excitement. I exit the ship to head to my bus for my field program and as I walk by this Ghanaian man named Eric walked up to me and said, “Welcome home.” He then gives me a bracelet with Ghana on it and then said, “I give you this because you are black. You are home.” I nearly broke down crying. I was led the rest of the way to the bus with tears forming in my eyes. I was so overwhelmed by the warm welcome…. The bus pulls off, and we head out. As the bus is going we drive past a Muslim celebration. I was so amazed. I wanted to walk with them, and I’m not even Muslim! I was so amazed at the beauty. They were singing, and I loved it. I began to cry. Mo called me a big baby, but I was just overwhelmed again. The singing and the smiles really touched my heart. It was somewhat like toward the end of “The Color Purple” when Shug Avery hears the music from the church and she followed the music back to the church and returned home (I know, another movie reference), but maybe “God is trying to tell me something!”
What was the toughest thing about studying abroad?
The toughest thing about studying abroad was reminding myself that I was taking classes. I mean, I was on a cruise ship where my room was cleaned every other day, I would wake up and be in another country and I was meeting new people every step I took. The atmosphere screamed vacation, but I soon realized my number one purpose for being on that ship was to receive an education so; I buckled down and got to work!
How has your experience abroad helped your personal development?
It helped me realize how my inner child was helpful even at the age 21. For example, when it comes to making new friends. I have a very big personality but when it comes to meeting new people, I can be very shy. When I arrived on the MV Explorer (ship), I only knew one person but I knew I couldn’t hold on to them for four months. So, I had to recall how I use to make friends as a child or even when I came to college and became vulnerable enough to let others in. Once I did that, I had new friends, new stories and adventures that I will always remember.
How has study abroad impacted your global awareness?
Studying abroad gives you a different view of the world. I knew before arriving in Africa that not all Africans live in poverty. Many of the Africans that I saw were richer than the average American. What I did see is how we mistaken other ways of living, for poverty. In America, we put so much value in materialistic things and in Africa and other countries I visited, they didn’t do that. We feel “sorry” or “pity” for people who don’t live in a “real houses”, but they are happier with the necessities of life. Some of the things we see as needs, are wants. Once you can understand that and the difference between the mainstream definition of poverty and what a culture may see as everyday living. We can stop passing judgments, and see that there is more to life than what is in your backyard.
How has study abroad impacted your education and/or career?
I think differently now. When it comes to class discussions, I can see things from a different point of view. I bring a twist to conversation and ideas that my peers or instructors haven’t thought about. I am also able to market myself as a world traveler and adaptable to different areas. Traveling has given me an upper hand when applying for jobs or certain programs.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of studying abroad?
DO IT!!! I hear a lot from my peers or students that their advisor has told them they can’t study abroad. I tell them, “THAT IS A LIE.” I know that is harsh, but it is. There are programs that cater to all majors, and you can take major courses abroad. If you have to take some classes during the summer, so you are more flexible during the fall or spring semester then do it. There are even summer programs. If I did it as a transfer student earning two degrees, anyone can do it! Never let someone stop you from what you want to do. If you want to see the world, go see it because in the end, you hold the key to your destiny.
How can people contact you for more information?