When Ben Stewart was 20yrs old, he travelled to Tokyo, Japan for 6 months as a McNair Scholar and exchange student at Hosei University. For Ben, this trip would help foster a deep love for music, art and culture.
What impact do you feel this trip had on you?
This trip broadened my understanding of how culturally vast the world is but also how interconnected we all are. How so much of my own culture has traveled and influenced people around the world. The biggest impact that I can emphatically say is this, being abroad in a country so homogenous really help me appreciate the things I had at home, but it also helped me realize how much in excess I had. I was truly blessed.
Do you feel this trip affected your sense of self or the world?
Absolutely! I always tell people about my first time abroad and the one thing that never fails to get the 'WOW' response is this. I've never felt more welcomed or accepted and less judged and stereotyped then when I lived abroad in Japan. It wasn't the lack of being the exotic other but the respect of the people that truly wanted to know about me and my culture. This elevated my perception of how influential my African/African-American culture truly was. And to make these lifelong connections with people in a culture I've always respected truly bridged the idea of self and the world!
"Had I not gone abroad I'm not sure I would be the person I am today."
What do you think you accomplished or pursued that you otherwise would not have?
I think my biggest accomplishment was learning to speak and write the language well enough to complete my research, which was later published. However, I did make a fortunate acquisition during my time there. I learned more about my own culture there, especially music, than I ever had the entire 20 years I had been on this earth. It was there that I found my true love for music, art and culture. Had I not gone abroad I'm not sure I would be the person I am today.
What do you feel contributed the most to this effect?
For me the openness of the people in the Japan. The way that they would literally go out of their way to assist a traveling stranger and make sure that the person wanted for nothing was truly amazing. If the adage of "it takes a village" is ever present it was in the Japanese society. And coming from a life where that was definitely abundant in my upbringing it adds to the sense of feeling more like I was at home.
What advice would you give to the person you were before you took this journey?
Do not let fear play a part in this adventure. You are ready for anything that comes your way, go with your gut and your heart because your mind is already prepared.
What advice would you give to the LFW team?
There will always be something unforeseen ahead, but make that a part of the adventure. It's in those moment that you truly grow in this world! Those are the memories you will draw upon the next time you feel as if the world is against your back.
What, if anything, would you change about your experience?
Every time I get hear this question I respond the same way.... I would have stayed much longer than I did. I would have also prepared better and saved myself a lot of stress. I can't tell you how important it is to really have your affairs in order before you ever set foot abroad. You cannot plan to much!
Ben Stewart is an Advisory Board Member for Leaders of the Free World. Ben graduated from Truman State University in 2005. Upon finishing his degree Benjamin moved to New York City where he went on to obtain a MBA in International Business Management from Keller Graduate School of Business and is currently finishing his second masters in Ethnomusicology at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He currently works for the Kingsborough Community College as the Sr. Academic Advisor for second year students in STEM majors.
You can follow Ben on Twitter at @4matastudio and on Instagram at @benzilla06