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
At Leaders of the Free World we are passionate about the transformative power of international travel. To that end, we are highlighting the stories of several young, Black men whose international experience had lasting impact on their lives. In some cases, these experiences spurred them to make a difference in their communities.
Bashir Harrell, now 29, traveled to Japan at age 21. A trip meant to be just a few months expanded into a year: “I was selected for a semester study abroad program at Kansai Gaikokugo Daigaku (Kansai Gaidai University). After my first semester, I enjoyed the program so much I made a request to the dean to extend my stay.”
“The people I met during my first time abroad were not just from Japan, but from all over the world. Many of them were there to study the language, but some had moved there long ago. I believe that meeting all these people that traveled for many different reasons from many different places essentially opened my eyes to the differences and most importantly the similarities in people of all race, creeds, and cultures.”
While in Japan, Bashir was able to develop his linguistic skills. He believed his trip played a key role in this. “I truly believe that traveling to Japan was a pivotal point in my life. My time in Japan, first as a student and then as a teacher amplified my love of languages. I am happy to say that I am now proficient in Japanese, I am currently learning Mandarin, and occasionally play with French and Spanish. These are all things that I do not think I would have done if I did not make that first step.”
“This trip opened my eyes to the world outside of my hometown, schools, and university community. It was a transformational experience where I was able to look back at my life and reflect on where I had been and what I had been through, while simultaneously comparing the culture of Japan to the cultural upbringing that I had in the Unites States.”Bashir’s trip made him feel that he could travel anywhere he wanted to go. “Since my first trip to Japan I traveled back there 2 more times both for stays of over a year. My curiosity of world languages and cultures propelled my graduate studies of Applied Linguistics at Teachers College, Columbia University. I believe that experiencing another culture is one of the best lessons that one can have.”
“The world is your classroom. Learn everything you can from anyone who is willing to teach you. Do not be afraid of trying new things, but know yourself and understand your limits. Be true to yourself and take in everything the world has to offer. Take many pictures and keep a journal. It doesn't matter what you write, just make sure that you do.”
The son of African storytellers, Bashir Harrell is not your average South Carolinian. Born in Georgetown, SC the second of four children, his parents named him Bashir because it means “messenger of good news”. Bashir has spent his 29 years bringing just that to everyone he meets. His life goals has lead him from South Carolina to Florida, to Japan to New York City. Now as his journey to share “good news” with the world continues as he is making plans to land in Beijing, China.