Written by Reagan Jackson
“Sometimes you’ve got to take a risk,” he said with a smile as he walked away leaving me a stranger in a strange land wondering whether or not my bike would be towed away by the Japanese police if I dared park it so close to the Metro entrance.
Though it was a random moment, a wrinkle in time of little real importance, that piece of advice has stuck with me for years, popping up to remind me at pivotal moments in my growth as a human being, that while there are times to be cautious, there are other times when you must leap fearlessly into the unknown.
I found myself at such a juncture just a short six months ago. After careful consideration, I uprooted myself from my comfortable life as a part time Spanish Teacher and Admissions and Marketing Assistant at the Meridian School to take some time off to really discern my purpose and decide what the next steps of my life and career would look like. People told me I was crazy.
Apparently most people don’t just leave a good job in the middle of economic crisis to go on some spiritual vision quest, but I am not most people. I heard a call and I heeded my intuition. With the support of my friends and family, I raised the money necessary to sustain myself on my adventure and I set off for a trip to Ghana, Morocco, Spain, and Portugal.
I first began traveling at age 16 when I accompanied my mother to Senegal for a month long faculty exchange. After growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, Senegal felt more like another planet, than it did another country. Everything was different: the languages, the weather, the architecture, the people, everything.
Though I was born in Iowa, being in Senegal was the first time I ever really identified myself as an American, or ever really thought about what it might mean to me a Black American in a global context. It may sound like a small thing, but for me it was huge shift in thinking. Of course there were many trips to follow. I had been infected by what my mother referred to as “wanderlust”.
I spent a year in Spain through the UW’s Northwest Cadiz Program, two years in Japan teaching English in several rural Junior High Schools through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, and six months in Chile teaching High School and Adult English classes. Each time I’ve gone abroad, I’ve returned changed, with a new perspective on the world and on myself. I can’t begin to explain the transformative effect these adventures have had on my life.
Upon returning from Chile, I was offered a place at the SIT Graduate Institute. I completed my MA in International Education with an emphasis on designing and delivering social justice focused study abroad programs for high school students. I was fortunate enough to spend three summers with the Experiment in International Living, taking high school students to Hokkaido, Japan.
Then my career went in a different direction. I spent two years working at the UW as the Assistant Director of Latin American Studies and then another two years working with the Meridian School. While both jobs taught me invaluable skills and were uniquely rich experiences, I felt like I strayed from my original purpose.
As always, traveling has helped me to center myself and has given me the perspective I needed to refocus my vision. I am so grateful to be the new Program Manager for Global Visionaries. Just reading the job description I knew that this would be a perfect way for me to combine my passion for social justice and international education in an environment where I could utilize my Spanish, my knack for organization, and my love of working with young leaders.
I also hope to incorporate my other loves, writing and art, into my new position. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone and becoming a part of this amazing community.