Casey Bridgeford

Ten years in, and a very windy road to look back on…I made the decision to return to school. It felt like a big gamble at the time. What if I wasn’t able to succeed in the class? How was I gonna pay for it? Where would I find the time between working full time and raising a family? How would others perceive me once it was obvious that I didn’t have a degree?

These questions plagued my mind, but didn’t deter me. Without answers, I looked for answers to more important questions, like: What if I made some life-changing contacts? What if I got a job making a livable wage? What if I could use a degree plus experience to do work I was really interested in? What if I could get my family off of food stamps? What if we finally had money to buy nice things outside of tax refund season? What if I became an expert at something? What if new doors of opportunity are opened up? What if…

Out of all the questions I had, I never wondered about “what if I get straight As?” What if community college landed me on the local news? What if I apply and get accepted to an Ivy League school? What if my whole family is featured on the from page of the Philadelphia newspaper and I get to do my first TED talk? I never wondered, what if I get a job at Wharton and a contract with Microsoft?

I never wondered about being scheduled to travel to Africa’s biggest music festival with a class full of some of the world’s smartest people. I never wondered how my future identity would be shaped by the things I learned about South African, Japanese, Nigerian, Zimbabwean, Ghanaian, Central American, and American history.

I never realized that I needed this experience to really see the world. Not like the television portrays the world, but really see it. I now am seeing the pressure that the “model minority” mindset places on Asian Americans. I understand the pressure of the Nigerian young adult that has to have the painful conversation with their parents that they wont be enrolling into med school, but would rather study sociology. I now understand that the gnawing feeling that I was missing out on something; was real. I have been missing out on the real world, and school is introducing me to it.

My turning started with a big decision and continues with an even bigger journey. This upcoming trip to Grahamstown is just one of the many milestones of of my life’s journey, but learning about the country, history, and context of one of Africa’s youngest democracies; is bound to make this milestone one of the most important of my life’s story.

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