In the Spring of 2016, I recall gazing out into the endless dunes of the Sahara Desert and suddenly feeling like my life back in the U.S. was very small.
I spent one semester studying abroad in Morocco and what it taught me more than anything else is that the world is truly vast, covering great physical distance but also an incredible array of cultures, traditions, foods, people, and architecture. My time in Morocco planted a seed in me – a desire to experience as many places, people, and cultures as I could.
Although my semester abroad in Morocco was not my first international trip, it was by far the longest and most transformative. As an international affairs major at UMW, I knew that studying abroad would be invaluable in advancing my interest in the politics of the region and my Arabic language studies. The four months I spent there were a challenge in many ways, but by the time I returned to the U.S., my academic and professional interests were solidified, and I felt an additional pull to help others experience international travel. My first semester back at UMW after studying abroad, I served as a peer advisor at the Center for International Education, helping other students find a study abroad option that worked for them.
After graduating from UMW in 2017, I continued to seek out opportunities to experience the world in whatever way I could. I completed a year of service with AmeriCorps, working at a community center that served immigrants and refugees in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Although I spent most of my life in Louisville, it wasn’t until I came to the center that I realized the incredible breadth of people and cultures that existed within my own community. Upon completing my year of service, I moved to Washington, DC for a position with an international education organization called World Learning. At World Learning, I work on a State Department-funded program called the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program. This program brings Iraqi college students to the U.S. for one month each summer to participate in an intensive leadership training that spans over three U.S. cities. As a staff person for the program, I’ve gotten to work with and over 200 Iraqi students and facilitate their journey in the U.S.
This past March, I traveled to Erbil, Iraq for three weeks to assist with our alumni activities back in Iraq. It was a truly eye-opening experience to visit a country that has always been characterized by war. Instead of seeing the destruction and poverty we see in the news, I saw Iraq’s resilient society, immense hospitality, and natural beauty. In August, my job took me abroad again to Turkey and Greece, where I spent time exploring sites I had only seen in history textbooks. Just last month, I traveled to Japan for the first time on vacation, where I was immersed in a culture completely different from my own. In each of these places, I found myself once again marveling at how travel can change your perspective in an instant. I am hopeful that my perspective will continue to change as life takes me to new and exciting places.
Lydia Grossman, UMW Alum