My journey to International Studies started from a very young age, fed up with boredom and normalcy. I’m from a small town in Michigan, and I found myself craving to learn more about the world outside of my commonplace midwest surroundings. To satisfy this need, I developed a love for languages. I studied Japanese and Spanish jointly in high school, and during two fortunate opportunities, I traveled to Japan twice.
I carried this love for cultural exposure with me, and it wasn’t until I attended college that my surface-level love for language transformed into a calling to pursue cultural competency and global impact. In typical fashion, college broadened by cultural lens, and I became enthralled with uncovering the lived experiences of diverse communities and viewing the world as an interconnected network of cause and effect.
This summer, I traveled to Washington, D.C. for a once-in-a-lifetime internship with the Human Rights Campaign. The Human Rights Campaign, known for its iconic yellow equal sign logo, is the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. I served as the Outreach and Engagement intern, and I was tasked with building strong relationships with domestic, international, and grassroots civil rights organizations through coalition building. One of my favorite experiences was helping to organize the #FamilesBelongTogether rally in response to family seperation policy. I worked closely with Latinx organizations to coordinate mass protest efforts around the nation, and when the time came, I protested myself.
I also established an international Pride database that organized HRC’s current global Pride participation and outline possible new involvements. I delved deep into LGBTQ+ attitudes across the world, broadening my own understanding of cultural and legal attitudes toward LGBTQ+ rights, which still shows an unfortunate number of countries upholding punishments by death or incarceration. Thankfully, conversations of LBGTQ+ inclusivity are occurring at a record rate, and I felt hope tracking the increase in new international Pride festivals established each year.
Interning with the Human Rights Campaign helped me realize the capacity and clout that large organizations have, and, arguably, the responsibility to assist grassroots organizers in more localized settings. I found this realization standing true just as much in the corporate sector during my following summer experience.
In August, I had the life-changing opportunity to visit the Google headquarters for a pre-internship immersion experience. The Google BOLD Immersion program is a selective initiative to foster upcoming leaders in the business side of the technology industry. For three days, I was surrounded by the brightest minds uncovering the intersection of social responsibility and technology. Myself and 49 other students immersed ourselves in Google’s culture, developing key skills in navigating ambiguity, critical thinking, and collaboration.
Reflecting on my expectations going into the program, I didn’t see crying amongst my list. However, being exposed to the sheer global impact of Google’s outreach left me in awe. It is well know that Google has a massive worldwide userbase. What is lesser known is their tremendous support of international grassroots organizing for social non-profits and enterprises. I learned of efforts to combat education disparities Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, VR Pride festivals to address LGBTQ+ discrimination in Bogotá, Colombia, and many other powerful initiatives. I heard the narratives of staff as they reflected on creating visible change on the ground as they saw the immediate impacts on wellbeing and access to opportunity. I didn’t know know that corporate technology and international grassroots organizing could go hand-in-hand, but after seeing it first hand, I know that it is not only possible but ethically imperative.
Google’s and the Human Rights Campaign’s international footprint, though different in many ways, spoke directly to my sole reason for pursuing my major in International Studies: global accessibility and inclusion. International Studies is my springboard to be able to spearhead conversations in diversity, equity, and inclusion through a lens of cultural sensitivity, intentional outreach, and access to opportunity. International Studies is a wonderful versatile field, and I look forward to molding it to achieve anything that I can envision.
Na’kia is a student at the University of Michigan pursuing a BA in Organizational Studies and a BA in International Studies. She is heavily involved in the Michigan Daily as a Senior Editor of the section Michigan in Color. When she’s not editing her LinkedIn, creating fun to-do lists, or reading about Google, you can find her reading poetry, meeting new and interesting people, listening to comedy podcasts, and chasing her cat.