By Chinwendu L. Maduegbunam, Fayetteville State University
Growing up in North Carolina, I was shy and my need to be perfect in everything I did made it difficult to connect with others. I always thought I had to be perfect: playing basketball, earning high grades, being the perfect daughter, etc. I feared how others would judge me so I rarely opened up to others. But, traveling to London as a Frederick Douglass Global Fellow in the summer of 2017 was an opportunity for me to grow.
I always desired to travel abroad and learn how other people lived, to connect with experiences that differed from my own. Exploring the streets of London, visiting the peace walls in Northern Ireland, and learning about British culture with new students was fun and relaxing. I loved living each day with a singular purpose: enjoying life. In my new environment, I no longer felt suffocated by the desire to be perfect.
Leaving perfection behind, I finally had an opportunity to connect with others in sharing circles that were an important part of the program. Each day, we gathered together to reflect on our experiences. Through the collective sharing of our past struggles and privileges, we laughed and cried together, and I had a space to practice vulnerability and break down my walls.
The experience changed me. I realized that being perfect was, in many ways, a veil of shame. It was hard to learn from my mistakes because I was afraid to admit I made them. I was so focused on being judged for having less than everyone else that I hadn’t really acknowledged the opportunities afforded to me: a college education, scholarships, and travel.
With newfound knowledge of myself and the U.K., I left London with a new outlook on life and the support of the family I had gained in my new friends. I am more relaxed now and embrace my imperfections (which is difficult to do but gets easier each day).
I often wonder what else I will do with my vast wealth of experiences. Where I come from, most people don’t travel overseas. As the first person from Fayetteville State University to be named a Frederick Douglass Global Fellow, I feel obligated to spread knowledge about the opportunities available to study abroad. I also want to take what I have learned to improve the quality of life for others.
Before beginning the program, we read the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. As someone who was slow to speak as a child, I connected to his journey to educate himself. Now I find myself inspired by his dedication to give back to his community. I look forward to living my life in his spirit, by giving back to my communities in North Carolina as a pediatric psychiatrist.
Frederick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” His story and the fellowship taught me to understand the beauty in my struggle. I appreciate all the moments in my life that have led me to where I am today, and I can’t wait to see where they lead me next.
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel.